Dr. Wilson Valentine, 89, brought history to life for students for nearly 50 years

May 29, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Wilson Valentine, a colorful professor who brought the follies and footnotes of American history vividly to life for his students during an academic career that spanned nearly 50 years, died in his sleep Saturday at Dulaney-Towson Health Care Center. The Timonium resident was 89.

With his clipped mustache, rimless glasses, bow ties and conservative style of dress, Dr. Valentine looked as if he 'N belonged more in the corridors of the State Department than the halls of academia.

He began his teaching career in the late 1930s at Polytechnic Institute and, in 1947, joined the faculty of the fledgling Baltimore Junior College -- later the Community College of Baltimore and now Baltimore City Community College -- teaching there until the early 1970s.

He continued teaching history and philosophy part-time at the Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College until he retired in 1980.

Known as a man who at times could be curmudgeonly, opinionated and an academic martinet -- which many students found very endearing -- his classes were far from dull, said R. Roland Brockmeyer, a Baltimore attorney, former student and friend.

"He had a very detailed and fertile mind," Mr. Brockmeyer said. "He was absolutely brilliant and loved history, its personalities and events."

A loquacious and straightforward individual, Dr. Valentine was fearless when it came to expressing his opinions.

"He loved the 1920s and never stopped blaming the Republicans for everything that went wrong in this country," Mr. Brockmeyer said.

"He blamed them for the 1929 stock market crash and for taking away that Jazz Age world he so loved. He always said that because of the Republicans, the 1930s 'landed like a thud and all the fun things stopped.'

"He became a lifelong Democrat, but was scarred by the Depression. He often said that anyone who lived through those years couldn't fail but be scarred," Mr. Brockmeyer said.

Dr. Valentine was amusingly outspoken on the abdication of King Edward VIII and his marriage to Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore. He couldn't fathom a monarch giving up his throne for an American.

"He'd ask his students, 'Why would Edward stop being the first )) sea lord to become a third mate on an American tramp steamer?' " Mr. Brockmeyer recalled, laughing.

But Dr. Valentine was moved to tears by the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, telling those arriving for his class moments after the announcement of the president's death to go home and watch history on television. "I can't teach history on a day like this," he said, recalled one of the students, David Ettlin, now a Sun editor.

Dr. Valentine was equally comfortable in his home library with a glass of brandy and a favorite cigar, discussing history, books and ideas, Mr. Brockmeyer said.

An avid baseball fan, and interested in the game's history and statistics, he'd listen to games on the radio and carefully noted in a ledger essential information.

"He despised television and always listened to games on the radio," Mr. Brockmeyer said. "He'd snap the radio on and off when the game got dull or slow, but he never missed or forgot a statistic. He had an amazing mind."

Despite never owning a television, Dr. Valentine did appear during the 1950s on "21," the NBC-TV quiz show, losing when asked a question about Oscar Wilde's play "Lady Windermere's Fan."

Born and raised in West Baltimore, Dr. Valentine was a City College graduate and earned a bachelor's degree from Hopkins and, in 1935, a master's degree in history. He was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1938.

He served in the Navy during World War II and remained active in the Reserves. He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant commander.

In 1932, he married R. Jane Mundy, who died earlier this year.

Services were held yesterday at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

He is survived by a cousin, June Clark of Baltimore; and several nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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