Edgar E. MacDonald, VCU Senior Cabell Scholar, Dies at 94

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Writer, professor and historian Edgar Edgeworth MacDonald, who served as Senior Cabell Scholar at the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries for more than 25 years, died Thursday in Richmond. He was 94.

MacDonald specialized in Virginia history and literature and wrote extensively about Southern writers.

Among his favorites was James Branch Cabell, of whom he is credited with writing the definitive biography. He is also credited with spearheading the movement to have VCU's James Branch Cabell Library on the Monroe Park Campus named after the Richmond author in the 1970s. 

After retiring from a 30-year teaching career at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland in 1974, he joined VCU as an unpaid Cabell Scholar.

"For all of us on staff, Dr. MacDonald was an affable, witty and sophisticated presence, possessed of a sharp intellect that he delighted to use in the service of entertainment as much as scholarship," said John E. Ulmschneider, university librarian. "He drew our admiration and our respect, and he was always and foremost an inspiration. For our good colleagues in Cabell Special Collections and Archives, who worked with him and enjoyed his company nearly every day, Dr. MacDonald was a constant companion and a good friend. They cared for him deeply."

The Richmond native's many publications included "James Branch Cabell and Richmond-in-Virginia," "James Branch Cabell: Centennial Essays" and "Ellen Glasgow: A Reference Guide," as well as a newsletter on Glasgow that he edited for 10 years. MacDonald’s scholarship on Cabell and Glasgow is showcased in part online: http://www.library.vcu.edu/jbc/speccoll/exhibit/friends1.html.
He wrote for publications such as American Literature, the Southern Literary Journal, Resources for American Literary Study and the Mississippi Quarterly.

"As a longtime and valued member of the James Branch Cabell Library Associates, Dr. Edgar MacDonald was a light among the shadows. An authority on Virginia literature and genealogy, he acted as a vital link between the present generation of readers, students and scholars and previous literary giants," said Walter Dotts, president of the James Branch Cabell Library Associates. "Dr. MacDonald's biography of James Branch Cabell and his promotion of Ellen Glasgow helped secure their places in the American literary canon. His knowledge of the forces and the families that shaped Virginia history helped illuminate the contemporary social and political landscape.

"Dr. MacDonald's guidance and input as a board member of the Cabell Associates supported strategic Cabell Library initiatives and echoed his broader community philanthropic activity. Although he avoided recognition during his life, his effect on generations of students and his beloved city will be felt for many years to come."

MacDonald served with the 99th Infantry Division in World War II. He received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Belgian Fouragere.

During his career, he served as an English professor at Randolph-Macon College, a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the State University of Leningrad and as a board member of the Library of Virginia and the James Monroe Law Office Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg. He also served as a trustee of the James Monroe Memorial Foundation.

Quoted on the Randolph-Macon College website, R-MC Humanities Professor M. Thomas Inge, a Randolph-Macon alumnus and former VCU professor, remembered MacDonald fondly.

“He was the professor at Randolph-Macon who first opened my eyes to the wide world of literature,” said Inge. “He taught a class in world literature that reflected his own experiences traveling and studying abroad and shaped my worldview. But he also cherished the local and taught me about Southern writing and his own favorite, James Branch Cabell. I had the pleasure of co-editing with him a collection of essays on Cabell. He was one of the most erudite, widely read, witty and sophisticated men I ever knew. His congenial presence will be missed.”

“Professor MacDonald, known for his idiosyncratic ways, had a strong and lasting impact on his students for over three decades,” said R-MC President Robert R. Lindgren.

Among many accomplishments in a life of letters, he was a founder of the Virginia Genealogical Society, the Friends of the Virginia State Archives and the Ellen Glasgow Society.

MacDonald earned his bachelor's degree at VCU's precursor, Richmond Professional Institute, and his master's degree from the University of Richmond. He earned his doctorate from The Sorbonne, University of Paris.

He left no immediate survivors.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1214 Wilmer Ave.