By David Martin
Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling, world-renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin came to the Eastern Shore this past weekend to sign books for a VIP crowd and then give a one-hour talk (to a sold-out audience at Nandua high school) on her latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times.”
Goodwin, 75, is on a national book tour that started in early September and has included more than 50 engagements in major metropolises like New York City, Boston, Miami, Washington, D.C., London —and, yes, Onley. She was wrangled to the Eastern Shore through some local connections, including Megan Ames, of Parksley, who works with Goodwin on her speaking engagements.
Goodwin’s appearance was a coup for the Historical Society of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Joan Marshall Lecture Series, which is made possible by the Jane Batten Donor-Advised Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. The lecture series is named for Joan “Johnny” Marshall, former president of the historical society. Amy Savona, of the historical society, said that the VIP reception was limited to 60 attendees and sold out at $100 per ticket. The general admission tickets also sold out at a total of 470, $10 for members of the historical society and $15 for nonmembers.
Goodwin’s interest in presidential history began when she worked as a White House fellow during the Lydon Johnson administration, later assisting Johnson with his memoirs. She has written seven books about presidents and one memoir. In 1995 she won the Pulitzer for “No Ordinary Time,” her history of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II. Her book about Abraham Lincoln’s brilliance as a politician, “Team of Rivals,” was adapted into a screenplay by Tony Kushner for Steven Spielberg’s 2012 movie, “Lincoln,” which was nominated for 12 Academy Awards. Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his portrayal of Lincoln. At her Nandua High School talk Saturday, Goodwin said she was the one who convinced Spiel-berg to include in the movie a story that Lincoln liked to tell about the British hanging a portrait of George Washington in the privy.
Goodwin has an incredible amount of energy, arriving at the Charlotte Hotel in Onancock around 8 Friday evening, staying one night, traveling the local area the next day, making the reception and speech that night, then leaving early the following morning for Washing-ton, D.C. One reception attendee said Goodwin was the Energizer Bunny.
On Saturday while at the Charlotte Hotel, she fielded multiple phone interviews from news organizations that wanted her perspective as a presidential historian on the presidency of George H.W. Bush who died Nov. 30. She told the Eastern Shore Post that Bush’s legacy was not restricted to his time as president but should be viewed in terms of his whole life. “His legacy is one of public service, of devotion to country and family, and of decency.”
This was Goodwin’s first trip to the Shore, which she called “a magical place.” She toured Accomac, Onancock, Onley and told the Post she was impressed by the area’s “beautiful church-es” and “amazing houses.”
Although her current book’s title, “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” sounds as if it was written for today, Goodwin said during her talk that she chose the title five years ago. The book covers the special circumstances faced, and leadership shown, by four presidents: Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. In her presentation, Goodwin outlined the leadership qualities of those presidents and emphasized that those same qualities can be applied to our personal and business lives.
Goodwin said one quality of good leaders is that they surround themselves with talented people who are not afraid to speak truth to power. She said one prime example of this kind of presidential advisor was Eleanor Roosevelt who disagreed with her husband, Franklin, whenever she thought he was getting something wrong.
Goodwin explained that Eleanor Roosevelt was also an advocate for women. When women reporters weren’t allowed into White House briefings, Eleanor Roosevelt made a rule that no men, only women reporters, could at-tend her First Lady press conferences. This forced newspaper editors around the country to hire women reporters for the first time, launching many news careers for women. Eleanor Roosevelt also championed women working in factories and shipyards, a move that was op-posed by the owners because they feared production would drop if women joined the workforce. But when the owners of those facilities were forced to hire women during the worker shortage created by World War II, the owners discovered that productivity went up. Goodwin said studies showed that the reason for this rise in productivity was that women workers asked for directions on how to operate machinery “while you men, well, you know that window never goes down to ask directions.”
As expected from a writer who has become enormously successful at popularizing history, Goodwin proved to be a good storyteller. Her audience frequently laughed and applauded and, at the end, gave her a standing ovation. She’s also a fast speaker. It seemed her listeners got a 90-minute speech compressed into an hour. And although she decried the lack of civility in our current times, she never mentioned President Donald Trump.
By David Martin