A scholar and a gentleman...

On Sunday morning, I awoke to the sad news that Tennessee State Historian Walter Durham had passed away at the age of 88. I only had two brief occasions to meet Mr. Durham, but I've admired his work and professional character for many years. Though I did not know him well, I feel a profound sense of loss for my home state of Tennessee.

Walter Durham was appointed state historian in 2002. He served as president of the Tennessee Historical Society, founding president of the Tennessee Heritage Alliance, later renamed the Tennessee Preservation Trust, and chair of the Tennessee Historical Commission. Mr. Durham was the author of two dozen books spanning a wide range of areas of Tennessee history. He was the recipient of numerous awards for his writing, and was a contributor for the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.

During a Memorial Day weekend in which we remembered the fallen heroes of our nation, it is also fitting that we remember that Walter Durham served our country in the United States Air Force during World War II. Upon returning home, he attended Vanderbilt University, where he received his Bachelor's degree in 1948 and his Master's degree in 1955. He was also the only person to serve on the state commission of the 100th and 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

In a beautifully written tribute published in The Tennessean, several of Mr. Durham's close friends and professional colleagues weighed in on his life and work. I was particularly struck by this remembrance by artist and historian, Bill Puryear:

"Walter was always a gentleman, very modest and courteous in his demeanor, religious about getting his facts right on history," Puryear said. "If he wrote it down and testified to it, you could count on it being accurate. He explored aspects of history, both local and Tennessee, in areas where nobody has ever gone before. So his books will stand as reference for hundreds of years."

Walter Durham was truly a scholar and a gentleman, a devoted advocate for history across the state of Tennessee, and he established the standard by which all future works of Tennessee historical scholarship will be measured. May God bless his family during this difficult time.

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