America lost one of its treasured storytellers several weeks ago, the renowned and beloved historian David McCullough (1933-2022). I’ve mentioned Mr. McCullough before on this blog and in my other social media writings, notably a post that praised his wonderful book, The Wright Brothers (2015).
So much has been said about this man since has passing, but I’d like to give him a bow by quoting a paragraph from his 2017 book, The American Spirit: Who Were Are and What We Stand For:
The world needs you. There is large work to be done, good work, and you can make a difference. Whatever your life work, take it seriously and enjoy it. Let’s never be the kind of people who do things lukewarmly. If you’re going to ring the bell, give the rope one hell of a pull. I wish you the fullest lives possible—full of love and bells ringing.
If it sounds like a line from a commencement-type speech, then you’re on the right path. This passage is from an address he gave at Dartmouth College in 1999. I think it’s a great sentiment for those of any age.
The thing is, David McCullough practiced what he urged these students to do with their lives. His life was rich and full and, well, “All American” in the best sense of the term. He fiercely loved this country and its many wonderful stories, and he contributed mightily toward our understanding of its history.
McCullough was not prone to regularly sharing his political views, which apparently tended toward the independent middle. He nevertheless stepped up in forming a group of prominent historians who jointly warned the nation of the dangers of a Trump presidency.
Boston was a favorite destination for his book talks, and I attended several of them. Each one was a treat. He will be deeply missed, even as his work lives on for future generations to discover and enjoy.