A Festival of the Book Dedication: Remembering Rob

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Robert C. Vaughan III, passed away on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. For those who didn’t know him, Rob was our founder and longtime President of Virginia Humanities. For those who did know Rob, he was so much more.

Friends and colleagues have written about Rob’s influential work in the humanities across Virginia, and indeed, across the country, through his leadership role with state and national humanities organizations and programs:

In this space, however, we’d like to remember Rob for his outstanding role as an enthusiastic supporter, participant, and devotee of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Our organization, Virginia’s state humanities council, includes a dozen programs, and all of them were important to Rob. Yet given his English degrees, his love for literature of all kinds, and his passion for sharing that love with family, friends, neighbors, and the thousands of annual Festival attendees, it should be no surprise that the Festival was his all-time favorite.

In 2019 we are celebrating our 25th annual Virginia Festival of the Book. We would not be here without Rob.

Before this Festival was an idea, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (as it was then known) featured literature programs across the Commonwealth, introducing Virginia communities to a broad range of authors, including Zora Neale Hurston book discussions (before her more recent renaissance) and the presentation of a Stanley Kunitz poetry festival.

When three Charlottesville community members approached Rob in 1994 with the idea for a community-based book festival, offering a mix of programs presented in venues all around town, he was all in. The Foundation became the nascent Festival’s fiscal agent, and provided a part-time director to help the planning committee present the first Virginia Festival of the Book in 1995. Neither the Foundation, nor Rob, ever looked back.

Rob moderated programs, hosted ceremonies and luncheons, and helped the Festival find its funding and audiences. He could step into any program at short notice, and be enthusiastic and knowledgeable, providing a pinch-hit performance without it seeming like anything at all. Rob also presented headliner programs with incredible ease, including a live BookTV broadcast with Representative John Lewis and John Carlos in 2013.

Rob was highly skilled at smoothing ruffled feathers, whether those of an author, sponsor, or attendee. He was the epitome of grace under fire and, post-Festival, thought each one was the best Festival ever!

If you happened to attend the Festival during any one of its first twenty-four years, you likely saw a tall, distinguished-looking, white-haired gentleman at the Literary Luncheon, enjoying a poetry reading, listening to students read their Letters About Literature, or simply walking down the Downtown Mall, hand-in-hand with a grandchild.

You won’t see him this year, and neither will we.

We are heartbroken. In his absence, we dedicate this, our 25th Festival, to Rob Vaughan, a gentleman, a scholar, and a true lover of all things literary.

 

Rob and Nancy Damon at the 2003 Fall Foreword
Rob in 2003 (c) Jen Fariello, The Hook
Rob at the 2010 Festival Luncheon (c) Ashley Twiggs
Rob with John Lewis and John Carlos at the 2013 Festival