Douglas Edward Leach (1920-2003)
Samuel T. McSeveney, May 2004
Douglas Edward Leach, professor emeritus of American history at Vanderbilt University, died at the age of 83 on July 1, 2003. He passed away at home in Nashville, Tennessee, after a 22-year battle with leukemia.
A loyal New Englander, Doug Leach was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his undergraduate education at Brown University, earning honors in English and election to Phi Beta Kappa. He completed college in 1942 while in the Navy's V-7 Program. Then, after training, Leach served as anti-submarine warfare officer on the U.S.S. Elden, a destroyer escort, in the Pacific theater of World War II.
Following release from the Navy, Leach embarked on graduate study at Harvard University, from which he received the MA and PhD (1952) in history. Seeking to understand relations and military interactions among colonials, Native Americans, and Britons, Leach wrote his doctoral dissertation on King Philip's War under the direction of Samuel Eliot Morison. Colonial New England figured prominently in Doug Leach's scholarship, especially his early works, Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War (originally his dissertation) and The Northern Colonial Frontier, 1607–1763. These were followed by Arms for Empire: A Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607–1763, and Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677–1763. Leach's books and numerous articles were characterized by painstaking research, judicious argument, and sound writing.
After teaching six years at Bates College in Maine, Leach taught for three decades (1956–86) at Vanderbilt University. While at Vanderbilt, he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and Fulbright lectureships at the universities of Liverpool (England) and Auckland (New Zealand). He also taught for a year at the University of Leeds where he served as resident director of Vanderbilt-in-England. On campus, Leach served in a range of university and college bodies and for three years as department chair. In recognition of his scholarship, teaching, and service, he was named Harvey Branscomb Distinguished Professor, 1981–82. Colleagues, graduate students, and undergraduate students alike well understood the bases of this honor. (Whether they understood Leach's admiration of the cinema's comic team of Laurel and Hardy was another matter, but admire them he did, even unveiling in his office a large photograph of the pair for colleagues to view.)
At the end of his academic career, Leach produced a final and remarkable work, Now Hear This: The Memoir of a Junior Naval Officer in the Great Pacific War. The volume won the John Lyman Book Award of the North American Society for Oceanic History. In an illuminating and moving Preface, Leach stated that he had “. . . approach[ed] the war . . . from a Christian perspective . . . eschew[ing] personal hatred; all I could hate were the enemy's philosophy, program, and manifest cruelty. . . . Now, more than forty years and two wars later, I remain convinced that the peacemakers must prevail, in accordance with God's will, for the sake of all humanity.”
Doug Leach's religious faith provided him with a moral compass throughout his life. He expected others to conduct themselves responsibly; he demanded even more of himself and he gave of himself in many ways to Calvary United Methodist Church and to the Nashville community, even in death. Leach's death notice identified five diverse organizations to which contributions might be made in his memory.
Doug Leach is survived by his wife of 53 years, Brenda Mason Leach; two children, Carol Leach-Morehead and Brad R. Leach; and a sister, Marilyn Schmid.
—Samuel T. McSeveney