On a cold day in February we had the pleasure of meeting Robert Lougee, Jr. regarding a collection he and his sister, Lorraine Lougee, were donating to the Library. As we watched the snow fall, we learned not just about the importance of the book collection prized by Dr. Robert Lougee (May 4, 1919- July 6, 2019) and his interest in making sure they were made available to those who might benefit from them, but also insight into his personal and professional legacy.
It was clear from the start of the conversation that the family has a deep love and respect for Robert. We learned of his service to the country including as an artillery officer (First Lieutenant) in Europe during World War II which sent him to the Battle of the Bulge, his love for his wife Grace and their nearly 77 years of marriage, his ability to read five languages, his respect of the beauty of nature, and the family vacations they all treasured together in New Hampshire.
Professionally speaking, Dr. Lougee’s career at UConn began in 1949 when he moved his young family to Storrs, joining the faculty as an instructor in the History Department. Lougee thrived in the academic environment and in turn provided UConn with invaluable expertise and leadership for 35 years, including serving as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (1971-1974), University Senate President, head of the History Department, and countless committees including his part in the selection of President Glenn W. Fergueson (1973-1978). In an article from the Connecticut Daily Campus on October 3, 1973, President Fergueson is quoted as saying he accepted Lougee’s resignation as dean “most reluctantly, and only after many efforts to persuade him to continue.” When he retired from UConn in 1984, Lougee received dozens of letters of appreciation from his colleagues across campus and his profession, including one from our own library director Norman D. Stevens.
Beyond the formal titles and roles, perhaps most important is what Dr. Lougee gave back to the University through the humanity he brought to students and colleagues alike. It was not out of the question for him to bring home a sobbing student for lunch to help cheer them up or counsel foreign students who were struggling with the English language. During a conversation with Nora Stevens shortly after ours with Robert, she painted a picture of a different time at the University. Where faculty gathered as friends, enjoying luncheons and activities together. She fondly remembered the Lougees’ and their part in making UConn faculty, students, and staff feel like family. In fact, UConn was so much a part of the Lougee family, their dog Peter would follow him to his office and even showed up in the middle of one of his western civilization classes. Robert and Lorraine would agree, their father made a greater contribution because of the way he lived his life, treating everyone with a genuine sense of respect and dignity.
After serving as an administrator, Dr. Lougee returned to his first love – teaching students and being a student and scholar himself. Dr. Lougee’s research passion was for modern European, German, and social history which is what built up the substantial collection of books. After his death at the age of 100, Robert, Jr. and Lorraine felt they could continue the legacy that was so important to him by generously donating over 1,600 books to the UConn Library. The collection was built through his academic research and leisure reading, including works in foreign languages, and in many of them you can find handwritten notes and marginalia, providing unique historical context valuable to researchers and book lovers. [You can learn more about Book Traces, a project we are involved in with the University of Virginia to document these types of communications.]
“I have personally looked through each book in the collection and am excited that students, faculty, and researchers will have the opportunity to use such a deep collection of primary research materials spanning World War I and World War II. Professor Lougee was building his collection in the same fashion we were, and it is full of top notch research titles for an incredible addition to UConn’s resources,” notes Dave Avery, our subject specialist to the History Department.
More than 300 books were permanently added to the collection and the remainder were donated to Better World Books, an organization that also believes in the power of knowledge and the desire to share it with those in need.
As I write this months after our meeting and months into working from home, I am reminded of how important it is to hear the stories of the people behind the donations. Over a cup of coffee, we learned so much more than Dr. Lougee’s collection of books but also the person he was. And when Robert pulled out the collection of typed, hand signed, and weathered letters sent for Dr. Lougee’s retirement, you can imagine that our University Archivist Betsy Pittman was like a kid in a candy store. They don’t just represent the gratefulness of Dr. Lougee’s colleagues, but also a reminder of the beauty found in a handwritten letter, a kind of communication that we rarely see these days. We also spoke to him about our CT Soldiers Collection which documents the experiences of Connecticut servicemen from the Civil War through the Vietnam War, and how his collection of written letters home while serving in the war would be an opportunity for researchers to see the kind of person he was during a difficult time in our country.
“We are so pleased Robert and Lorraine chose to give back to UConn and its research through the Library,” said Dean Anne Langley. “The book collection will greatly benefit the general collections, and just as important, it opened up an opportunity to talk about how some of his other materials could continue to share with others the kind of person he was while benefiting researchers in Archives & Special Collections.”
There has been a delay in the processing of those books due to our temporary exit from the Homer Babbidge Library in March, and we expect the books will be made available through our catalog in 2021. For more information about the collection, please contact Dave Avery.