Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

Two Time Pulitzer Prize Winner David McCullough Loves His Wife, Family, History And He’s a Really Nice Guy

In the pantheon of our country’s greatest American historians David McCullough’s name will forever be thought of as one of the most brilliant caretakers of our nation’s history. He’s painted portraits with words and made history come alive. His exuberance about the human spirit is what sparks his interest to write book after book to teach all of us about the fabric that’s created our great nation.

David McCullough

He is an American treasure.

I was fortunate to hear Mr. McCullough speak at The New Jersey Speaker Series at NJPAC. It felt like I was sitting in a comfortable chair next to a dear friend. His warm and easy manner, and his voice (oh, that voice!) set the stage for what was a fascinating and brilliant presentation.

He endeared himself to the audience when he began by talking about his 60-year love affair with his beloved wife, Rosalee.

David McCullough

Who knew that at 81 years young this two-time Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, and the recipient of The Presidential Medal of Freedom, was such a romantic? He continued to pay tribute to Rosalee by sweetly singing an old Bing Crosby tune:

My Girl’s an Irish girl, with the blarney in her smile. She’s the fairest in the Isle. Sure she sets people talking, when she goes out walking. My Girl’s an Irish girl, from her head down to her toes. And no care in the world will harry me, when she promises to marry me. My sweet little Irish Rose.

His self-deprecating humor perfectly illustrates his down-to-earth manner. One of his many stories was about a young student who attended one of his lectures. After the question and answer period was over, the person in charge of handing the handwritten questions to Mr. McCullough quietly gave him one more as he whispered, “You might want to save this one.”

“Aside from John Adams and Harry Truman, how many presidents have you interviewed?”

David McCullough

Speaking for over 90 minutes without notes or slideshows, Mr. McCullough relied on his extraordinary intelligence and ability to tell a good story the way Will Rogers could spin a good yarn.

He demonstrates his love of history and history education by teaching and lecturing at over 100 universities across the country. He holds teachers in high regard because, as he says, today more than ever our culture is fast becoming illiterate, and history is essential to having quality leadership in our country.

Teachers are the most important people in our society. They are doing the work that counts and their capacity for inspiring and motivating young people will affect us far into the future.”  ~David McCullough

When I attended public school in the 1960’s our history books were old and lacking. Teachers did little to inspire us to learn more about figures such as Paul Revere or Abigail Adams. They remained merely footnotes on a page.

But I was blessed with parents who instilled a love of history at home, and together we visited many historical sites such as Williamsburg, Gettysburg, and Fort Ticonderoga while discussing their importance. (Editor’s Note: I believe it is the responsibility of every parent to teach their child about our nation’s history. Our children hold the country’s future in their hands. You have to know where you’ve been before you can know where you’re going.)

David McCullough is America’s teacher because he knows the footnotes that have been neglected in schools across the nation, and spends years researching and writing about them to tell their story.

John Adams. Harry Truman. Theodore Roosevelt. The Greater Journey (Americans in Paris). The Johnstown Flood. The Path Between the Seas (Panama Canal). The Brooklyn Bridge. Mornings on Horseback (Theodore Roosevelt). Brave Companions: Portraits in History. 1776. In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Story. 

David McCullough

He’s been “happily working for more than three years” on a book about The Wright Brothers. Coming out this May, this is the story of two self-taught brothers who grew up poor. Their father believed in the value of education, and knew that even a child’s toy could be an instrument for learning. So their town library became their school, and it was there that they discovered art, history, and music and realized their aptitude for math and physics.

Theirs is a story not only about the bravery it takes to accomplish something that has never been done before, but also about the importance of learning from your failures and never giving up on yourself or your dreams.

The Wright Brothers, as in every David McCullough book, will leap off the pages as we spend time with them, and finally take their rightful place among timeless American figures .

END NOTE: My husband, mother and I attended an after party held to meet and take photographs with Mr. McCullough. Unlike other speakers, Mr. McCullough mingled with the guests and my mother (a lover of history who has read every David McCullough book and has a deep respect for him) made her way over to him to hold their own private conversation. I had no idea what they were talking about.

It looked liked they’d been friends for years.

When it was our turn with the photographer, I began to say the elevator speech I’d been nervously practicing all day, but I was interrupted by Mr. McCullough who, after seeing my mother again, exclaimed, “Here’s my belle.” Grabbing my mother’s hand, he directed how we’d stand for our “photo shoot.”

But before we left, we had two questions we hoped he’d answer.

My husband wanted to know if Mr. McCullough ever started to write about a subject that he changed his mind about. The answer was yes, Pablo Picasso, because he didn’t like him very much.

I asked if he’d ever consider writing a book about a woman, such as Betsy Ross or Dolly Madison. I should have been smart enough to know what his answer would be.

Yes. A book about Rosalee.

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41 thoughts on “Two Time Pulitzer Prize Winner David McCullough Loves His Wife, Family, History And He’s a Really Nice Guy

  1. Jackie

    I have great respect and admiration for Mr. McCullough and while I have read a good number of his books, I don’t always find them as fascinating as others do. I am of the opinion that all of his research, while obviously painstaking and lovingly procured, does not need to make it on to the pages of his books, LOL. Still, I am happy that he has had the career that he has had, which I think says as much about the American reader/learner as it does about the author. Perhaps our cause is not as lost as many contend that it is.

    There is far too much history — even for a country as youthful as ours — that cannot be taught in school. As parents, we really should spend some time discussing and visiting some of the sites that made us who we are. Sometimes it is wise to dangle the “amusement park carrot” in front of our children as we do so. I will admit to combining trips to historical sites with the promise of a day at “Six Flags” (or some other theme/water park) to keep the peace. My daughter, sadly, was not bitten, as I was, by “the history bug.”

    I am so happy that your mother and Mr. McCullough “connected”. And, I love that he is so devoted to his wife. (I saw a special on them once — it may have been a “60 Minutes” piece — and was impressed by their relationship.)
    Jackie recently posted…Let’s Bring Back the Hat!My Profile

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      I respect how you feel, Jacqueline, and we’ll have to agree to disagree. Because I believe that to learn about an entire story about a historical figure who’s become obscure it cannot, and should not, be broken down into shorter snippets of information. I’m sure that’s not what you meant but it’s how I feel. A full history needs to be told, and Mr. McCullough is a champion at telling it.

      I am fortunate that our son loves history, and we visited many historical sites as he grew up. Now he is majoring in political science to do his part, in whatever way he decides, for our the good of the country. Stay tuned.

      I loved the love story and couldn’t leave it out. That is the full picture of David McCullough!

      Thanks so much for sharing your views with me. I always appreciate hearing from you.

  2. Jackie

    As far as Mr. McCullough’s books are concerned, I KNOW that I am in the minority in expressing an opinion for a little more brevity, LOL. And, really, I am one to talk — the pot calling the kettle black, so to speak. I am not known for brevity my own self!
    Jackie recently posted…Let’s Bring Back the Hat!My Profile

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      Part of why I have deep respect for you is because you hold fast to your opinions. The world would be boring if we all agreed all of the time. I want to hear and discuss different perspectives. That’s what makes America so great. And good friends, of course.

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman

    Ahhh, what a wonderful post! I am a fan of David McCullough but I did not know about his romantic side — which endears him to me even more. The photo of him and your mom holding hands speaks volumes, too. So glad you got a chance to meet this incredible writer and give us a glimpse of his adorable personality! Also, I will be on the lookout for his new book — it sounds terrific.

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      I look forward to his book too, Helene. Who knew The Wright Brothers were so fascinating? I couldn’t fit it all in a blog post but their story also revolves around a strong family that supported one another unconditionally. Magical.

      His romantic side? My mom and I sighed together. Singing a song to your wife who isn’t there? Priceless. What a genuinely wonderful man.

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      Doreen,

      He was such a lovely man and so down-to-earth that you can’t help but feel comfortable in his presence. Like a dear friend. Plus that voice! Marvelous. It was a great honor for all of us to meet and listen to him. Truly a magical evening.

  4. Cheryl Nicholl

    Dear God I love these posts you write about authors! I can’t think of a better question to ask him then the one you asked about had he ever ‘started a book and not liked the subject’. I think I would feel the same way about Picasso. That he connected with your mother personally is not surprising, after all, he has such respect for his wife and I’m sure all women of that age. I didn’t know he had written about the Johnstown Flood? We have distant relatives that died during the flood. I’m going to have to read it! THANKS!
    Cheryl Nicholl recently posted…10 Things I Need To Learn To Do Before the ApocaplyseMy Profile

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      Oh, Cheryl, I am so sorry about your relatives. How AWFUL and tragic that must have been. Yes, his book about Johnstown is excellent (not a surprise) so you should check it out!

      I have such respect for him for holding women, teachers, our country and (of course) his wife in such high regard.

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      I had a feeling he’d be this gentlemanly sweet soul and it was a privilege and great honor to meet him. My mom is still talking about it, and I’m glad I could provide this warm experience for her

  5. Pat

    What an exciting experience for you and your mom and thank you so much for capturing it so eloquently in words, so that we could feel like we were right there too hearing the great historian speak. I especially loved his quote about teachers and am proud to say that my son has chosen the profession and is now sharing his love of history with his students.
    Pat recently posted…Call Me Coach – A March Madness EpiphanyMy Profile

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      My mother was a teacher as well, Pat, for 20 years. I have great respect for them, particularly the ones who ignite passion, creativity and wonder in young students. I am so happy for your son – what a marvelous choice! And I am so glad you enjoyed my article about the incredible David McCullough.

    1. shifrachester@gmail.com Post author

      It was a magical evening, Carolann, and my mom was so happy which, in turn, made me happy.

      Mr. McCullough is an extraordinary man, author, historian, narrator and oh, so much more! So endearing about his love affair with his wife. Such a gifted human being.

  6. Linda Waxman

    I never told you this story when I first read your post on David McCullough but here it isl
    A couple years ago, my son was working in Center City Philadelphia in Jacobs Piano store when David McCullough and his wife walked in and purchased a Steinway from my son. I don’t know who was more excited. Anyway, my son was able to set up a long distance delivery for him. He sent a lovely “client source report” about the experience, thanking my son for his gracious attention. Needless to say I framed the report and will always treasure it.
    Thought you might enjoy this comment, Thank you for your always interesting blogs

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