George Cooper | Staff Writer
Willard Sterne Randall encountered history at a young age, growing up in Philadelphia, seeing history of the revolution all around him and following his father’s footsteps — from Valley Forge to Gettysburg, wherever their 1950 convertible would take them.
The author of a dozen books, Randall will speak on his most recent subject, Ethan Allen, at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. The lecture is part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series. A book signing will follow.
Always interested in history, Randall went to work for a daily newspaper at the age of 18. He wrote occasional history columns about local events. He was so busy working as a journalist that he didn’t have time for organized school, although he was learning all the same.
“I didn’t go to college right away,” Randall said.
He went at night for nine years, dropping more courses than he completed.
“I just didn’t have time to complete the coursework all the time,” he said.
He nonetheless knew what to do with his time. Randall completed his undergraduate degree at the age of 40, having already written five books. He eventually went on to finish graduate school, but he didn’t let that stop him; he continued writing, especially biographies.
On his website, Randall wrote, “Biography enables the reader to approach the great mass of ideas, actions and struggles that historians have too often rendered impenetrable. We need some path or bridge to approach history and biographies provide that approach. Writing about great men and women prompts us to discuss leadership, charisma, the relationships between leadership and power, between leaders and the people. But the lives of the not-so-great can also show us how people in everyday life react to the same events and problems. They provide case studies into the periods in which people lived.”
Upon moving to Vermont in 1984, Randall found it strange there had not been much written about Ethan Allen, patriot and Revolutionary War hero. Allen had founded the state of Vermont. Randall said that Allen was irrepressible; no matter how many setbacks he encountered, he got back on his feet and charged ahead.
The Revolutionary War and Founding Fathers such as Ethan Allen are of particular interest today, and there is a current spate of books being published on the Revolutionary War period.
“People wonder about how well government is working and wonder what was the original idea of the founders,” Randall said.
The country started in an economic crisis, and people want to know how debt was dealt with after the revolution.
Vermont had paid its own way, Randall said. Allen opposed giving money to help out the other thirteen states. Even today, the people of Vermont have questioned government.
In his career as journalist and historian, Randall received the National Magazine Award for Public Service from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, the Hillman Prize, the Loeb Award and three Pulitzer Prize nominations during his 17-year journalism career in Philadelphia. After completing his graduate studies in history at Princeton University, he turned to writing biographies, which also have garnered three Pulitzer nominations, according to Randall’s website.