Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr. of Westmoreland County, VA, 89, died on Nov. 2 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, VA. He was preceded in death by his parents, James Irvin and Elizabeth Kympton Robertson and his first wife, Elizabeth Greene Robertson.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Lee Robertson; sons, James I. Robertson, III (Tricia), Howard Robertson (Beth); daughter, Beth Brown; grandchildren, Dr. David Brown (Trisha), Heather Brown, Courtney Williams (Brian), Chris Robertson (Nicole), Payton, Ethan, Ansley Robertson; great-grandchildren, Colin and Lea Brown, Jackson Robertson and Delaney Williams; Step-daughter, Dr. Elizabeth A. Lee (John Purcell); Step-son, William W. Lee, Jr. (Glenda); Sister-in-law, Ellen D. Headley (John); Cousins, David Kympton and Howard Kympton (Mariana).
Robertson received his bachelor’s degree from Randolph Macon College in 1955 and a PhD at Emory University in 1959, working under his longtime friend and mentor, the great Southern historian Bell I. Wiley. His academic career took him from the University of Iowa in 1959-61, to George Washington University in 1962-1965, and on to the University of Montana 1965-1967 before he came to Virginia Tech and commenced a tenure that lasted forty-four years until his retirement in 2011. In addition to other undergraduate and graduate classes there, he devised and taught the only two-semester course in Civil War history in the nation, being honored by the university as an Alumni Distinguished Professor.
In 2003 he founded and acted as the first executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, a non-partisan center devoted to disseminating the story of America’s most dramatic period, not to fellow academics, but to the lay people of the nation, through seminars, tours, publications, teachers’ workshops, and more, and held that position until his retirement.
His published contributions to the field of Civil War history were legion, beginning with his editorship of the scholarly journal Civil War History and continuing with his first book, The Stonewall Brigade, published in 1963, and over 40 other books spanning half a century down to his most recent work, Robert E. Lee: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works. His 1997 Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend was a best-seller and multi-award winner. He was a frequent advisor to television and film productions dealing with the Civil War era, and his Jackson biography provided much of the basis for the 2003 feature film “Gods and Generals,” for which he acted as historical advisor.
In 1961, at a critical moment when the United States Civil War Centennial Commission was in danger of foundering from contention and mismanagement, Robertson was appointed executive director, and helped turn the observance around, working closely with presidents Harry S. Truman, John F Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. As a result, he was asked to take charge of the United States Bicentennial Commission in 1976 but declined. When the sesquicentennial of the Civil War arrived in 2011, however, he served as the only non legislative appointment on the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and helped it lead the nation with an ambitious commemoration of that anniversary through publications, annual symposia. For it, he co-wrote and co-hosted the television documentary series “Virginia in the Civil War; A Sesquicentennial Remembrance,” for Public Broadcasting and Virginia’s schools, which was nominated for a special local Emmy Award. Other services to Virginia history included positions on the boards of the Virginia Historical Society and the Museum of the Confederacy.
Throughout his career “Bud” Robertson was certainly the nation’s most in-demand speaker on Civil War topics before historical groups, delivering more than 1,000 talks and lectures to audiences lay and professional. Since the 1990’s he was frequently a lecturer on overnight steamboats traveling American rivers and inland waterways, and at the time of his passing had, as usual, a number of scheduled speaking appearances on his calendar. Throughout his career, his goal was always to bring the story of the Civil War and its people to Americans of today, without rancor or partisanship, in the hope that understanding it would help this and future generations cope with the continuing effects of that tragic era.
Funeral arrangements are by McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg. Services will be at Blacksburg United Methodist Church at 2p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16. Following burial in the Westview Cemetery, friends may gather at the German Club for fellowship and remembrance of Dr. Bud. Visitation at McCoy Funeral Home on Friday, Nov. 15 from 1 – 3 p.m. and 6 – 8 p.m.