Holmes County native and one of the world’s most respected historians and Abraham Lincoln experts has died. David Herbert Donald was a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the Civil War and American South whose expertise on Abraham Lincoln brought him a wide audience and reverence from his peers. Donald died of heart failure at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston on Sunday while awaiting heart surgery, said his wife, Aida. He was 88.
A professor emeritus at Harvard University, Donald won Pulitzers for biographies of abolitionist Charles Sumner and novelist Thomas Wolfe. But his books on Lincoln became his legacy. Presidents from John F. Kennedy to the first George Bush summoned him for lectures and fellow scholars acknowledged his prominence.
Donald was the grandson of a Union cavalry officer and was born into a farming family in Goodman. Having grown up in a segregated town, he was interested in race relations and planned to study the post-Civil War era. But he also needed money and found a job working as a research assistant to a leading Lincoln scholar, James Garfield Randall.
For decades after Lincoln’s death, writing on the president was dominated by nonhistorians, such as poet Carl Sandburg, who wrote a best-selling, lyrical and famously unreliable biography. Randall helped transform Lincoln studies into a professional discipline.
Donald married Aida DiPace in 1955 and had one child, Bruce Randall. The Donalds moved to Lincoln, Mass. in the 1970s, not in homage to the president, but because of good schools and proximity to Boston. In addition to his wife and son, Donald is survived by two grandchildren. Graveside services at Lincoln Cemetery are scheduled for Wednesday.