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The Passing of an ODU Legend

Old Dominion University lost one of its most prominent alumni and faculty emeriti with the passing of Alf Mapp Jr. on Jan. 23, 20011.

He was a legend, not only among the campus community, but also throughout Virginia, the nation and beyond for his books on Thomas Jefferson. In fact, former President Bill Clinton was among Mapp's many admirers, and kept a copy of one of his books on Jefferson atop a credenza behind his desk in the Oval Office.

A nationally recognized authority on America's third president, Mapp wrote and co-authored more than a dozen historical books in all, starting with "The Virginia Experiment: The Old Dominion's Role in the Making of America" in 1957. Shortly after that book's publication, he enrolled at Old Dominion, which was still known then as the Norfolk Division of William and Mary, to continue the education he had started many years earlier at the Williamsburg school. When he earned his Old Dominion degree in 1961, the administration at the time knew a good thing when they saw it, and asked him to stay on as a faculty member.

One of the favorite stories I heard soon after I arrived at ODU had to do with Professor Mapp's early experience on the faculty here. His former colleague, Charles O. Burgess, professor emeritus of English and a former dean of the College of Arts and Letters, recounted the story in the fall 2005 edition of ODU's research magazine, Quest:

"He had published 'The Virginia Experiment,' a widely used history of the commonwealth, in 1957, before he came to the Division as a faculty member. But when the history department wanted him to teach the course in Virginia history, it was discovered that he had no academic coursework in the field. He therefore signed up for the Virginia history course taught by G. William Whitehurst (later dean of students and member of the U.S. House of Representatives).

"It turned out that 'The Virginia Experiment' was the textbook for the course, and with the approval of President Webb, Mapp was excused from attending the lectures in the class, though he did have to take the tests and write a term paper. He got an A."

Professor Mapp, of course, went on to teach thousands of students - and write many more books and scholarly articles - during his three-decade tenure at Old Dominion.

He was a legendary figure among the campus community and his passing is a great loss. He will be missed by former students, colleagues and friends, but his legacy will live on. We at Old Dominion were most fortunate to have had him among our ranks for so many years.

This article was posted on: January 25, 2011

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