Donald Eugene Emerson, 78, Taught European History At UW For 42 Years
Donald Eugene Emerson taught history at the University of Washington for 42 years. He was an uncompromising intellectual, austere as a simple declaration of fact.
And that was his appeal, to those who were not put off by his serious manner.
Though few would consider Dr. Emerson, who died of a probable heart attack Sept. 8 at his Bellevue home at age 78, a charmer in the typical sense, people who knew him found him captivating.
"I was both thrilled by him and frightened," said Michael Bulger of Washington, D.C., a student of Dr. Emerson's in the 1970s.
Dr. Emerson, who had a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, specialized in the history of 20th-century Europe, especially Germany. He was a demanding, relentless professor.
"His motto was: If that's so, then show me," Bulger said. "But when it came right down to it, he was very supportive and encouraging."
According to Bulger, Dr. Emerson had his own peculiar style.
He'd always wear the same gray, pin-striped suit to class. Before launching into one of his lectures, he would stand in front of the class with his hands clasped, rocking back and forth on his heels, gazing expectantly at his students. After a moment, aware that nobody was going to ask him anything about the previous night's reading, he'd utter, "No," and start lecturing.
"He had very high standards, and he didn't suffer fools gladly," Bulger recalled.
Dr. Emerson, who was born in Chippewa Falls, Wis., led a life of discipline. During World War II, he worked as an intelligence officer in England, interrogating German prisoners and escaped Allied prisoners. The war experience inspired him to pursue a career in history.
His book on German history, "Metternich and the Political Police," was published in 1968.
At the time of his death, Dr. Emerson was refining a second book, this one on German re-armament during the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era. He lost the original manuscript about 10 years ago when his briefcase was stolen on an East Coast trip.
He later told Bulger about the theft, to which Bulger responded with dismay. But Dr. Emerson, the consummate scholar, casually replied: "Oh, quite the contrary. It was a very productive exercise to reconstruct (the manuscript) by memory."
Dr. Emerson's daughter, Marianne Emerson of Washington, D.C., said scholarship was her father's life. She described him as highly principled.
Apparently, he adored the Pacific Northwest. Upon moving here in 1946, he deemed it "God's country," his daughter said.
Though he was a loving, devoted father, she said, the students and former students with whom he maintained relationships knew him best.
Former student John Hill, a historian living in Philadelphia, called Dr. Emerson "an inspiration" who was intensely concerned about the intellectual growth of his students.
Said Bulger, "I thought of him as my guru."
Dr. Emerson is survived by his former wife, Bettina Meyerhof Emerson of Seattle; brother, Hugh Emerson of Orange, Conn.; daughters Marianne and Ruth Emerson of Seattle, Cameron Emerson of New Orleans and Kathleen Acker of Los Angeles; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Washington Park Arboretum Visitors Center, 2300 Arboretum Drive E.
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