Whether or not you’re a history geek, it’s hard not to get excited about it when you’re listening to renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin! The Pulitzer Prize winner visited our campus on September 29th; met students, alumni, and donors; and delivered a lecture in the Johnson Theater. Her visit began in the Office of the COLA Dean in Murkland Hall, for a gathering of a few guests that would be attending her lecture later on in the evening. Among the crowd were J. Morgan and Tara Rutman, whose generous donations, in honor of his parents Darrett and Anita Rutman, have funded the Rutman Distinguished Lecture Series at UNH, of which this was the second annual installment. I believe the one other undergraduate student in the room would agree that we both have a lot to learn before we have mastered the seamless art of milling, hand-shaking, and name-recalling! For the time being, I focused on the Moroccan lobster salad, until finding conversation with a writer from Portsmouth who seemed as happy as I was to anchor himself in one corner of the room. I almost didn’t notice the guest of honor make a modest entrance, before a grand announcement of her arrival from the History Department Chair, during which she insisted everyone call her Doris.
I got the chance to share a brief conversation with her as she floated around the room. It amazed me that, even with her countless unique experiences, her friendships with Lyndon B. Johnson and Stephen Spielberg, and her six NY Times Bestsellers, she still seemed intently interested in learning about me!
We soon moved from the Office of the Dean to the Johnson Theater. The event was sold out, and the seats were all buzzing with UNH community members of all ages. Doris stood in the center of the stage at a podium, and her presentation was not flashy or exaggerated, yet everyone in the room was captivated, content to learn for as long as she was willing to share her knowledge. Doris talked about the leadership tactics of three presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and FDR. We learned about Lincoln’s team of rivals, FDR’s cocktail hours, and Teddy’s banter in the face of criticism. I live tweeted a few of my favorite fun facts from the lecture from the UNH Students Twitter account – just scroll down to September 29th! Doris also told us about her experiences living in the white house with Pres. LBJ during the last year of his presidency. We heard about her time working with Stephen Spielberg and Tony Kushner on the set of the 2012 film, Lincoln, and her nights at the bar with Daniel Day Lewis, who insisted everyone call him “Mr. President” while he played the title character!
At the end of her lecture, Doris Kearns Goodwin received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd, and took a few questions before leaving the stage. After filing out of the theater, some audience members attended an after party in the PCAC Art Gallery. Doris graciously accepted the thanks of each person in the line that formed to have a moment with her. Before mine, I heard her speak enthusiastically with a young boy about the Red Sox. Trying not to take up too much of her time, I told her what a pleasure it was to have her here at UNH, and couldn’t resist sheepishly asking for an autograph!