- A Tribute to William U. McDonald, Jr.
W. U. McDonald, Jr., the founding editor of the Eudora Welty Newsletter (1977–1997), died on January 13, 2016. Catherine Chengges, McDonald’s friend and the stalwart author of the annual “Eudora Welty Checklist of Scholarship,” visited “Mac” in early January and reported that although frail, he still had his sense of humor.
Eudora Welty was often reported as saying, “Here’s to our absent friends,” and I find myself quite without any better words to express my feelings about McDonald’s absence, which followed so soon after the loss of William Jay Smith and Tim Seldes. Noel Polk conjured the Eudora Welty Newsletter with McDonald and recommended me to him for my first assignments of collating substantive changes of selected stories and then essays from magazine to book publications. What a lesson in close reading! Next, McDonald asked me to compile the annual checklists, and in 1997 when he retired from the University of Toledo, he suggested that I become editor. Marking that change for the Newsletter, Polk praised McDonald as “not just a pioneer in Welty studies, but [as] the inspiration and a sustaining presence as the field has developed over the past three and a half decades” (15). McDonald was always of few words, kind but direct, and overly modest regarding his enormous contributions to Welty scholarship.
In addition to creating, developing, and editing the Newsletter, McDonald established the Eudora Welty Collection at the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the University of Toledo Libraries. In 1993, McDonald wrote A Guide to the collection of the first editions, periodicals with Welty publications, blurbs, letters, a few manuscripts, and various miscellany and reproductions that were then opened for researchers. Working with Polk, McDonald keyed all the materials to Polk’s Eudora Welty: A Bibliography, then in press. The collection is as impressive and as underappreciated as is McDonald himself.
When I became editor of the Newsletter, Chengges commenced compiling the annual checklists of scholarship. She contributed the following tribute for our understanding and appreciation:
Dr. William Ulma McDonald, Jr., was my professor for a graduate course in which our final project was an annotated bibliography of [End Page 1] the past ten years of scholarship on a particular work. (This was in the mid-1980s, before research databases, when libraries still had card catalogs.) Soon after the class, he invited me to assist him with the Eudora Welty Newsletter and, ever the teacher, gave me a copy of Welty’s Collected Stories. Working with him provided the opportunity to appreciate his eagle eye for details as he edited the Newsletter, his dry wit as the occasional zinger was chuckled, his almost unreadable handwriting which he would ask others to decipher, and his maintenance of some of his routines that are worth telling, especially for those who know his contributions to Welty studies but who were not fortunate enough to know the person. From his retirement until only a couple of months before his passing, Mac would take a bus or cab—he did not drive (nor did he use the internet)—to the University of Toledo for healthy walks. While on campus, he would visit with various former colleagues and coworkers, getting the scoop about the most recent administration; and, every Friday, he indulged in mujadara for an early lunch at the university’s Middle Eastern restaurant. He also enjoyed regular strolls through the Toledo Museum of Art, one of the many recipients of his charitable contributions which he often kept anonymous. That anonymity underscores how remarkably self-effacing, generous, humble, and private Mac was. Our tributes would make him squirm! But, while he would shy away from any focus on himself, he never hesitated to guide, encourage, and celebrate the people around him. He applauded the scholars who have developed and continue to develop Welty studies; he was thrilled with Pearl McHaney’s successful development of the now Eudora Welty Review, always eagerly awaiting its arrival in the mail. The 2016 issue being dedicated to Mac is a wonderful acknowledgement of how much this personal and professional development owes to him.
Unbeknownst to me, Mac...