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Noted Professor Emeritus Alf Mapp Jr. Dies; Funeral to Be Held Jan. 26

Author, historian and journalist Alf J. Mapp Jr., eminent scholar emeritus and Louis I. Jaffe Professor Emeritus of English at Old Dominion University, died Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, in a Suffolk nursing facility. A lifetime resident of Portsmouth, he was 85.

There will be a visitation at Loving Funeral Home, 3225 Academy Ave., Portsmouth, today, Jan. 25, from 6-8 p.m. A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, at Churchland Baptist Church, 3031 Churchland Blvd., Chesapeake, with a visitation at the church from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

A nationally recognized authority on Thomas Jefferson, Mapp wrote and co-authored more than a dozen books. His scholarly works on Jefferson included "Thomas Jefferson: America's Paradoxical Patriot" (2007), "Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim" (1993) and "Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity" (1989). They were enthusiastically praised by prominent historians and political scientists.

After starting his undergraduate education at the College of William and Mary in 1941 at the age of 16, Mapp had to drop out the following year due to health reasons. He later worked as a journalist for many years in Hampton Roads and wrote his first book, "The Virginia Experiment: The Old Dominion's Role in the Making of America," in 1957. After its publication, he enrolled at Old Dominion, which at the time was still known as the Norfolk Division of W&M, and received an A.B. degree in 1961. Mapp was recognized years later by the American Philosophical Association.

Charles Burgess, ODU professor emeritus of English and a former dean of the College of Arts and Letters, remembers his former colleague fondly.

"Alf was one of a kind. He was a scholar and a writer before he even earned a bachelor's degree, and he went on to write rings around his colleagues - impressive books in content and in style," Burgess said.

"He loved the shape of the English sentence and was always molding one. He once said that he composed sentences while waiting for a traffic light to turn, then went home and wrote them down without altering a syllable. We shall certainly miss him."

Charles Wilson, current interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters, called Mapp "a pioneer in interdisciplinarity. He was an English professor who was also proficient in historical scholarship."

Mapp joined the faculty at Old Dominion as a lecturer in English after his graduation, and progressed through the ranks to professor in 1979. He was designated as an eminent professor in 1982 and eminent scholar in 1989. He was named Louis I. Jaffe Professor in 1990. Mapp, who taught courses in literature, journalism, creative writing, history and western civilization, retired from the university in 1992.

A 13th-generation Virginian, Mapp helped to further the reputation of ODU, both nationally and internationally, through his writings on Jefferson, whose footsteps he began tracing after learning as a freshman at William and Mary that he was taking classes in the same building Jefferson had and that he was walking the same path Jefferson often trod. His books on Jefferson received critical acclaim, and he was often been called upon by the media to discuss America's third president.

"He wanted to make historical figures real," his son Alf Mapp III said in a story published this morning in The Virginian-Pilot. His son added: "I think he was proudest of his writing on Thomas Jefferson. And he loved teaching at Old Dominion. I think he felt that his writing might live the longest."

During his more than three decades at Old Dominion, Mapp received numerous awards, including the ODU triennial Phi Kappa Phi National Scholar Award and in 1996 the Richard Hakluyt award for historic writing. 

In one of his latest books, "The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America's Founders Really Believed" (2003), he looked at the beliefs, and the characters, of 11 of the architects of American democracy. His 1957 book "The Virginia Experiment" was revised and reissued in 2006. Over his career, his books and hundreds of published articles gave him national and international recognition. His writings have been translated into nine languages. He also co-authored "Portsmouth: A Pictorial History" with his late wife, Ramona Hartley Mapp, who died Jan. 8.

Mapp received the Downtown Merchants Award for citizens doing most to improve the city of Portsmouth. He also served on many editorial boards, grant committees and arts commissions, at the local, state and national levels. He received a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a listing among the Ten Best Books by the American History Publications Society, a medal from the Comite Francaise du Bicentenaire de l'Independence des Etats-Unis and the Commonwealth of Virginia Cultural Laureate.

He served the national and international communities in such enterprises as the Bicentennial of Cornwallis' Embarkation for Yorktown and the World Premiere of Britain's Traveling Mary Rose Exhibit (both of which he chaired) and in his work as an adviser to the U.S. government's bicentennial re-enactment of the Battle of Yorktown. For such activities he was awarded the National Bicentennial Medal for "the planning and execution of programs unexcelled in quality in the United States."

Mapp Jr. is survived by his son, two stepsons and several grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Friends of the Old Dominion University Libraries, 229 Perry Library, ODU, Norfolk, VA 23529.

This article was posted on: January 24, 2011

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