Farewell, Dear Friend: David Darlington, 1977—2011

David Darlington 1977-2011The death, on the last day of May, of David Darlington, associate editor of Perspectives on History, coeditor of the AHA’s Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians, co-manager of the annual meeting Job Center, and an invaluable colleague, came as a shock to all of us here at 400 A Street.

It was a shock even to those of us who knew that behind his stoic smile and exemplary dedication to his work, David characteristically hid the pain and the suffering from the colon cancer that finally took his life at the unconscionably young age of 34.

David joined the AHA’s publications department on December 26, 2001 as a young, unassuming assistant editor. He arrived shortly after he earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Maryland at College Park, where he learned the craft of editing as the graduate editorial assistant for the Freedmen and Southern Society documentary history project. David was a modest colleague, although he had nothing to be modest about. Few of his colleagues would have known that he graduated magna cum laude (from Muhlenberg College with a BA in history) or that he completed all the courses at George Washington University’s Continuing Education Division to become a “Master Editor.” Though, those of us with middling typing skills were always comforted by the fact that even the minutest of typos would be caught by David.

In the office, David was a shy, retiring person, who floated in and out almost invisibly but attended to his daily work with a silent and exemplary diligence. He joined in all the office social gatherings and meetings, but tended to sit quietly even during the sometimes loud conversations, until he intervened with an apt anecdote or gentle quip. An ardent videogame enthusiast, David was also a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and followed the NFL team devotedly, despite his affection for the Terrapins of his alma mater, Maryland.

In addition to managing all his normal duties as associate editor of Perspectives on History (where he ensured that the job ads were copyedited and published online in a timely fashion; coordinated and edited the In Memoriam essays, compiled the members column, and helped the editor whenever needed), David contributed in several ways to the AHA web site. He managed the newly launched members’ books column, provided material for the What We’re Reading series, and most strikingly, wrote prolifically and stylishly for AHA Today. His blog posts seamlessly melded and quietly manifested his writing talents as well as his research skills. And he often amused the reader by leavening the post with his subtle and nuanced witticisms–as manifest in clever and apt titles, such as “A Clear and Presentist Danger.” David often cloaked his erudition in the deceptive simplicity of his witticisms. One that stands in my memory was in a relatively prosaic discussion of the fate of PhD programs. In that post, he not only dropped in a perfectly apposite quote from an essay that Lawrence Stone had written in 1972 for the AHA Newsletter, but managed to cleverly revivify the opening lines from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, writing, “Perhaps illustrating that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as blog…” (a verbal reinvention that one can only envy).

Although they may not have realized it at the time, the few AHA members who directly encountered him at the Job Center at various annual meetings can only have found his steady, calm, and placatory presence an effective and soothing antidote to the anxieties of the job search. It was just days after he joined the AHA that he had to plunge into the complex, entirely new task of managing the Job Register (as it was then called) at the San Francisco annual meeting of the AHA in January 2002. It was a testament to David’s willingness to accept—and perform—any task that he was assigned, as well as his remarkable ability to make it seem effortless, that he performed as if he had been training for the job all along. He performed so well that first time, that he went on to do that difficult job again and again over the years.

David went through life quietly, even when he was deftly performing all those important jobs. That was his nature, really. But we will miss him deeply. Yes, life will go on, the issues of Perspectives on History will go to press every month, applicants will flock to the Job Center at the annual meetings, and someone else will sit in the office across the corridor. But there is only one David Darlington, inimitable in his modesty, exemplary in his conduct, and he cannot be replaced.

Updated June 7, 2011 12:30 p.m.: In lieu of flowers donations may be made in David’s honor to the
American Cancer Society or Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

Updated June 7, 2011 3:25 p.m.:

AHA staff proposed, and the Council unanimously approved, the following memorial resolution:

Whereas David Darlington provided devoted service to the Association over the past ten years; and

Whereas David’s conscientious administration of the Employment Information Bulletin, the Job Center, and an array of other programs touched the lives of many in our profession in a positive and enduring way; and

Whereas David was much beloved by his colleagues at the Association; and

Whereas his service to the history discipline was cut much too short by his premature death;

Therefore the Council of the American Historical Association now recognizes and celebrates the lasting legacy of service that David Darlington and his work have left to this Association

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