Remembering Terry Birdwhistell

With great sadness, I announce that Nunn Center founder and former OHA president Terry Birdwhistell passed away this week. Terry served in many roles in the University of Kentucky Libraries throughout his 50-year career, but oral history was always at the center. In addition to creating and organizing dozens of significant oral history projects at the University of Kentucky since the early 1970s, Birdwhistell was an exceptionally skillful interviewer, interviewing Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lady Bird Johnson and numerous educators, politicians, and entrepreneurs. Typically, when Terry Birdwhistell conducted interviews with you, you became a friend, and so many of these friendships endured for life. 

In addition to my work at the Nunn Center these past 15 years, I was honored to collaborate with Terry co-editing the “Kentucky Remembered: An Oral History Series,” published by the University Press of Kentucky. Recently, Terry focused on writing about and publishing books drawing from many of his earlier oral history projects, including “Our Rightful Place: A History of Women at the University of Kentucky, 1880-1945,” “James Franklin Hardymon, A Memoir,” and his final work “Washington’s Iron Butterfly: Bess Clements Abell, An Oral History,” which he co-authored with his friend and longtime collaborator Don Ritchie. 

One of my favorite things was to sit and listen to Terry tell stories about the Oral History Association’s early days, hear stories of that generation of oral history “rockstars,” and discuss and debate the intricacies, issues, and the importance of oral history. Terry was passionate about and committed to the Oral History Association. As I prepared for my OHA presidency in 2016, I was fortunate to interview Terry about the history of the OHA, and Terry’s interview with Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis was the focus of the inaugural episode of the Nunn Center’s podcast “the Wisdom Project.” You can read more about his career in this release from the University of Kentucky. 

Terry Birdwhistell was responsible for bringing oral history to the University of Kentucky in the early 1970s and patiently and persistently working to formally establish the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History nearly three decades later. From my first year in oral history, Terry Birdwhistell was a teacher, a mentor, and above all else, my good friend and he will be greatly missed. 

Doug Boyd

Director, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

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