David McCullough, the popular historian and Pulitzer prize-winning author, television host and narrator, has died, The Associated Press reported.
McCullough, known for his narratives on a wide range of historical subjects and comprehensive biographies of American presidents, has been in failing health and died at the age of 89 on Aug. 7 in his Massachusetts home, less than two months after his wife, Rosalee. No specific cause of death was given, per The New York Times.
“David brought some of the most important people and events of our past back to life with rich research, vivid writing, and his wonderful, recognizable, trustworthy voice,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement, per The Associated Press. “While we and our country will miss David, we need only reach for the bookshelf to be with him again.”
The New York Times heralded McCullough with the headline, “Best-selling explorer of America’s past.”
“Critics saluted him as a literary master, adept at imbuing the familiar with narrative drama and bringing momentous events to life through small details and the accounts of individual witnesses,” the obituary said.
“A great historian is gone today,” the biographer Robert Caro said in a statement published by The New York Times. “There is only one solace: His books will endure, helping America understand its past.”
In 2006, McCullough received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a United States citizen can receive. He received more than 45 honorary degrees and regularly spoke to large audiences.
During his illustrious career, McCullough made several appearances in Utah, including speaking engagements at university campuses and with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Here are six occasions when McCullough taught Utah audiences about history.
BYU forum in 2005
McCullough delivered a forum assembly address titled “The Glorious Cause of America” at Brigham Young University on Sept. 27, 2005. Despite the imperfections of those early patriots, they didn’t quit, the historian taught BYU students.
“I hope when you read about the American Revolution and the reality of those people that you will never think of them again as just figures in a costume pageant or as gods,” McCullough said. “They were not perfect; they were imperfect — that’s what’s so miraculous. They rose to the occasion as very few generations ever have.”
Here is a YouTube video except from his remarks.
Luncheon keynote address in 2007
In 2007, McCullough was present when President Gordon B. Hinckley was recognized with the Municipal Citizen of the Century Award for his decades of work building bridges in Utah’s communities.
Delivering the luncheon’s keynote address, McCullough said more and more Americans are historically illiterate and no longer write, or can think, the way John Adams and Abigail Adams did, the Deseret News reported.
“To write well is to think clearly. To write very well is to think very clearly,” McCullough said. “And we don’t do much thinking on paper any more.”
McCullough also urged increased emphasis on history, wherein he said lie lessons of humanity. “History is about consequences, the consequences of actions. It’s about faith, about human nature.”
Church History Library in 2009
McCullough shared stories about his experiences studying the Founding Fathers, including what they wrote and what they read, and emphasized the value of learning history. He also praised church members for preserving its “epic” history.
“You are caring for a national treasure here,” he said. “The story of the Latter-day Saints, of Joseph Smith, of Brigham Young, and that incredible migration here is a great American story.”
Narrator for Tabernacle Christmas concert in 2009
Months later, McCullough was invited to be the guest narrator for the Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concert. As part of his narration, he told of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Christmas Eve visit to America in 1941 when he heard “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the first time, and it proved to be an inspiration in a dark time.
His experience with the Tabernacle Choir was one-of-a-kind for McCullough, he told the Deseret News.
“I’ve done nothing like that,” he said. “With that wonderful choir behind me and all those people in front of me. The first time I stepped out there, I didn’t know if I could do it. But it was a thrill, and I’ll never forget it.”
Family History Conference in 2010
McCullough was a speaker at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference at the Conference Center in April 2010, per the church’s newsroom.
Understanding history means understanding those who came before us, he said.
“The more we know, the more we want to know. Curiosity is accelerative,” he said. “There really is no such thing as the past. No one really lived in the past. They lived in the present, their present.”
Utah Valley University Honorary Fellow in 2012
McCullough was honored as the inaugural Honorary Fellow of the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University in September 2012.
“I am pleased, proud, honored and feel a nice afternoon surge of adrenaline that this is happening to me in this wonderful campus at the inaugural of what can be a prime example set for other colleges and universities all over our country,” he said on that occasion. “Is this going to work? You bet it is going to work. And it’s going to work because it’s needed.”
During his remarks, McCullough called the pursuit of happiness the pursuit of greater knowledge, per the Deseret News.
“We are accountable for what happens in the government and the direction of our country and we are accountable for the education of our children and grandchildren,” he said. “They didn’t mean vacations. They didn’t mean more stuff. They meant the life of the mind, the love of learning.”