A Tribute to Dr. Louis De Vorsey, Jr.: (1920-2012)

By Bederman, Sanford H. | Southeastern Geographer, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

A Tribute to Dr. Louis De Vorsey, Jr.: (1920-2012)


Bederman, Sanford H., Southeastern Geographer


When The Library of Congress decided to produce its first resource guide to help celebrate the 1992 Columbus quincentennial, it made two important decisions. The first was that its initial publication would focus on the library's vast holdings regarding the Age of Discovery, and the second was that Dr. Louis De Vorsey Jr. would write it. Who better to do it! Geographer Louis De Vorsey not only had a deep knowledge of the Library of Congress, but was also a leading American authority on historical documents and maps, and was in the vanguard of scholars who were celebrating the 1492 discovery of America. He recently had served as President of the Society for the History of Discoveries, and he had co-edited In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and Controversy in 1985, a series of essays that argued the locations of places in the Caribbean that may have been the site of the first landfall. In a paean to the Library of Congress, Lou in his resource guide literally takes the hands of his readers, and happily leads them to the diverse places where Columbiana and other important documents related to the Age of Discovery are housed. In 1992, Louis's lavishly illustrated volume, Keys to the Encounter: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of the Age of Discovery, received the American Librarians Association Award as one of the ten best books published that year by an agency of the U.S. government.

Louis De Vorsey's long, illustrious career ended in Athens, Georgia on April 29, 2012 after a short, fatal bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 83 years old. At his death, several articles he wrote had been accepted for publication, and others were in various stages of completion. His most recent study (about Savannah, Georgia) was published this year in The Southeastern Geographer. Lou De Vorsey never stopped doing what he loved best. His publication record spanned over sixty years.

I first met Lou De Vorsey in 1963 when he had just begun to teach at East Carolina University. He then taught at the University of North Carolina (1965-1967), after which he joined the geography faculty at the University of Georgia in 1968 where over the next twenty years he became one of the most distinguished scholars in the United States. He retired as Professor Emeritus in 1988. A favorite personal memory of Lou De Vorsey occurred in 1993 when I was a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. I was scheduled to teach a course in geographical exploration and discovery, and though long-retired, Lou attended every class, and actually we team-taught the course. Students got much more than what they paid for. Another memory occurred when Lou and I shared a room at a geographical conference in Providence, Rhode Island. During the night, it seemed like every fire truck in New England was clanging right outside our room. We woke to learn that a whole nearby city block was on fire. It was an auspicious welcome to Rhode Island.

Louis De Vorsey was born on April 6, 1929 in Newark, New Jersey, and attended school in nearby Lyndhurst. He earned the BA degree at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and then completed the MA in geography at Indiana University in 1954. Before he continued his academic studies, he entered the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport News, Rhode Island, where he was commissioned as an ensign. While on active duty as a photo/radar navigator, Lou served in Japan, Okinawa, Thailand, Guam, and Alaska. One of his brief assignments while in the navy reserves was at the Naval History Division in Washington, D.C., where he worked on a volume titled The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Atlas of 18th Century Maps and Charts (1972). Lou was proud of his service in the navy--he held the rank of Commander, USNR-Retired. Prominently displayed at his memorial service at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia was his Commander's hat.

While maintaining his commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he continued his academic studies first at the University of Stockholm, and then at University College, London. …

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