Sheldon Hackney, a noted historian, humanitarian and longtime Vineyard resident, died Thursday, Sept. 12, at home, surrounded by his family. He was 79. The cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Mr. Hackney was a well-known figure on and off the Vineyard. Born in Alabama, he was a professor of Southern history who became president of Tulane University and later the University of Pennsylvania and served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Clinton administration.
Last month Mr. Hackney was honored with a medal from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for his many contributions to the Vineyard community.
“He was an extraordinary academician, the gold standard for educational leadership, and he was my friend,” said Vernon Jordan, a lawyer and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.
“I think of him as the quintessential southern gentleman-scholar — a noted historian and a man of letters with a genteel quality that made everyone very comfortable around him,” said Ron Gault, another friend.
He had been coming to the Island since the 1960s and lived in Vineyard Haven with his family in a home overlooking the harbor.
“It’s my favorite place on earth,” he told the Gazette in a 1993 interview.
“We are all so sad this afternoon, losing our close, close friend and neighbor the gallant, brilliant loving Sheldon Hackney,” Rose Styron told the Gazette on Thursday. “Bill and Sheldon and Lucy and I shared four generations of fine family across our lawns for 46 years — books, celebrations, pranks, tributes, joy, sorrow and endless conversations with each other and the myriad Vineyard friends who cherished him.
A graveside service will be held on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 2 p.m. in the West Chop Cemetery on Main street in Vineyard Haven. A memorial service to celebrate Mr. Hackney’s life is being planned for a later date and time to be announced.
A complete obituary will appear in next week’s Gazette.