Tom Staley, 86, Built UT's Ransom Center into Key Research DestinationHistorians in the News
tags: University of Texas, literature, archives, libraries, rare books
Tom Staley, visionary director of the Ransom Center at the University of Texas for 25 years, died of bladder cancer Tuesday. He was 86.
Perhaps even more than Harry Ransom — the UT chancellor, book collector and center's namesake who died in 1976 — Staley turned the archives into a global powerhouse that rivals the collecting achievements of Harvard University, Yale University and the British Museum.
A widely respected authority on novelist James Joyce, Staley tracked down and acquired the papers of dozens of major authors as well as hundreds of minor ones. In a very competitive field, he won the collections of actor Robert De Niro and photojournalist David Douglas Duncan as well as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate papers.
A native of Pittsburgh who launched his academic career at the University of Tulsa, Staley transformed the center's building at West 21st and Guadalupe streets from a forbidding fortress into an airy and welcoming public showcase with a ground-floor museum and a second-floor reading room. He was the director from 1988 to 2013.
“Tom Staley became director of the HRC at a time when that institution had passed through a lengthy period of troubles," said Don Carleton, director of the UT Briscoe Center for American History on the other side of campus. "He soon restored the HRC to its previous status as one of the cultural gems of UT.
"Tom was also a master at collecting and fundraising, and his visionary actions changed the HRC from its monastic-like existence as a rare book and document collection into a welcoming and open institution with first-class exhibition galleries and public programs.”
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