Wyatt-Brown, Pulitzer-finalist UF historian, dies at 80

Published: Monday, November 12, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 12, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.

A longtime University of Florida history professor whose Pulitzer Prize-nominated book helped make his reputation as a leading scholar of Southern history has died.


Bertram Wyatt-Brown

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 80, was a UF history professor for 21 years before retiring in 2004. He died Nov. 5 of pulmonary fibrosis in Baltimore.

Wyatt-Brown put the UF history department on the map with writing that changed thinking about the South as well as his work with graduate students, said Steve Noll, a senior lecturer in the department.

Wyatt-Brown was “a great historian (and) a broad thinker, but a better person,” Noll said. “This is somebody who cared deeply about grad students, both their intellectual and personal lives.”

His best-known work, “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South,” was a 1983 history finalist for both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. The book explored the honor code that shaped society in the antebellum South.

“Among scholars studying the South, he’s got to be among the handful of top people in the last half of the 20th century,” said William Link, who succeeded Wyatt-Brown as the Richard J. Milbauer professor of history at UF.

Noll said Wyatt-Brown worked with a number of graduate students who went on to teach at universities across the country. He recalled being among a group of students who packed a van Wyatt-Brown had rented to attend a conference marking the University of Georgia’s 200th anniversary.

“His house became known as the Hyatt Brown because grad students could always stay there and spend their summers there when Bert and (his wife) Anne were gone,” Noll said.

After Wyatt-Brown retired, a conference was held at UF in his honor in 2005. Essays by 16 former UF students were collected in the 2011 book, “Southern Character: Essays in Honor of Bertram Wyatt-Brown.”

Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Wyatt-Brown was a son of an Episcopal bishop. He earned bachelor’s degrees from both Sewanee: The University of the South and King’s College in Cambridge. He completed his doctorate in history at the Johns Hopkins University.

He taught at Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and Case Western Reserve University before coming to UF. He was the author or editor of 11 books on topics including southern history and the family of author Walker Percy.

He is survived by his wife, Anne, a linguist and scholar with expertise in the aged, their daughter and two grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore on Friday. The family requests that memorial contributions be directed to the cathedral in lieu of flowers.

Noll said Wyatt-Brown, known for his omnipresent bow tie, was “a character but never descended into caricature.” He said Wyatt-Brown was an intellectual historian and a decent person.

“Sometimes that kind of fools you, when you’re a decent guy, maybe your intellect is not the best,” Noll said. “But here’s a guy who was sharp as a tack and who thought broadly and deeply.”

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.

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