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Notice regarding Scott Donaldson

Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campys community on Jan. 14, 2021. - Ed.

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share the news that Scott Donaldson, Louise G.T. Cooley Professor of English, Emeritus, died of lung cancer on December 1, 2020 at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Prof. Donaldson was a renowned literary biographer and, with his wife Vivian, a very generous financial supporter of William & Mary’s English department, endowing the English department’s Donaldson Writer in Residence fund.

Scott Donaldson was born in Minneapolis on November 11, 1928, the third and last child of Frank Arthur and Ruth Chase Donaldson, and maintained residence in that city until his late-30s.  He attended Blake School, class of 1946, and Yale University '50.  He earned his M.A. in English from the University of Minnesota in 1953, and served in the Army Security Agency during the Korean War.  Upon discharge he began working as a cub reporter on the Minneapolis Star, covering local government and schools in the rapidly growing suburbs of Bloomington, Richfield, and Edina, and later became editor-publisher of the Bloomington Sun and executive editor of the chain of Sun papers around the Twin Cities.

He turned this experience to account when he returned to the University of Minnesota for his doctorate in American Studies.  His dissertation dealt with the American suburb, and resulted in a book called The Suburban Myth.  In the fall of 1966, he began a nearly 30-year career teaching primarily American literature at William & Mary.  He retired in 1993 as Louise G.T. Cooley Professor of English Emeritus – the first member of the English department to be honored with a named chair.

At William & Mary Prof. Donaldson made his initial venture into literary biography, telling the life story of the excellent minor poet Winfield Townley Scott (1972).  This was followed by By Force of Will: The Life and Art of Ernest Hemingway (1977) and Fool for Love, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1983).  Thereafter, he continued to specialize in the life and work of these two authors, most notably in a dual biography Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship (1999), in collections of essays he edited on A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby, and the Cambridge Companion to Hemingway.  The best of his more than forty articles on these two writers are assembled in Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Works and Days (2009).

Among the duties and activities associated with these two authors, Donaldson evaluated Fitzgerald-Hemingway criticism for American Literary Scholarship (1980-1984), was elected an honorary member of the Fitzgerald Society in 1996, served as a director of the Hemingway Society and Foundation from 1999 to 2013 and as president of the organization from 2000 to 2002.  He has been on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Hemingway Letters project since its inception in 2005 and wrote the introduction to Vol. 4 of The Letters of Hemingway: 1929-1931, published in 2017.  He has twice made keynote talks at International Fitzgerald conferences, and three times at International Hemingway conferences.

Prof. Donaldson taught overseas twice as a Fulbright senior lecturer at Turku, Finland (1970-71) and Milan, Italy (1977), and was appointed a Bruern fellow to teach at Leeds University in England (1972-73).  He was a Visiting Fellow at Princeton (1978) while reading the voluminous Fitzgerald papers at that university's Firestone library.  Among other honors he won two National Endowment for the Humanities grants and three semester grants from William & Mary to support his writing.  He was twice a MacDowell Colony fellow, lectured in Australia as a U.S.I.A. Distinguished American Specialist (1993) and in 1996 was a recipient of the MidAmerica award for literature and elected to Phi Betta Kappa.  He has been listed in Who's Who in America for several decades.

His biographies of other writers include John Cheever: A Biography (1988), Archibald MacLeish: An American Life (1992), which won the 1993 Ambassador Book Award for biography, Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life (2007), and Death of a Rebel: The Charlie Fenton Story (2012).  In The Impossible Craft: Literary Biography (2015), he chronicles the trials and tribulations and rare triumphs of his own and other biographers' experiences in practicing their craft.  His short book, The Paris Husband (2018), which attempts as its subtitle indicates, to document How It Was Between Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, was published in 2019, and his monograph on Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night: The War Between the Sexes, is due for publication.

After retiring from William & Mary, Donaldson settled at Desert Highlands in Scottsdale, AZ, with summer stay of ten years in Minneapolis and thirteen years in San Diego.  Until 80, when sidelined by calf muscle injuries, he continued to play competitive tennis, though hardly at the level he reached in boys' 15-and-under tournaments, when he was ranked 19th in the nation.  While based in Scottsdale, he continued his career as a writer-editor that resulted in 21 books and well over a hundred articles, essays, and extended reviews.  He also played duplicate bridge regularly, achieving the status of Sapphire Life Master, and for five successive years winning the Ace of Clubs award for most master points awarded in club games.  In 2020, his 91st year, he ranked fourth in the nation among players with 500-3500 points.

He is survived by his wife Vivian Baker Breckenridge of Anadarko, Oklahoma, mother of stepdaughters Janet Breckenridge McNulty (husband Will) of Grand Junction, Colorado, and Britton Chase Donaldson of San Diego. Four grandchildren also survive him, Chase and Jeanette's twins John Scott (Jack) Donaldson II and Amelia, and Will and Janet McNulty's children Mickey and Lucy.


Peggy Agouris