SAA Remembers Dr. David B. Gracy II

SAA Fellow, past president, and indefatigable archives champion Dr. David B. Gracy II, 79, passed away September 26, 2020. He is revered for the breadth of his professional contributions throughout his storied career as well as the warmth of his personality. He developed the Southern Labor Archives, was a founding member of the Society of Georgia Archivists, an ardent and early leader in archival education and professional certification for archivists, author of the first American manual on arrangement and description, and a lifelong advocate for societal understanding of archives and the archival profession. He also contributed significantly to the preservation and celebration of Texas history.

Gracy was born on October 25, 1941, to David Caldwell and Alice Tillar Gracy in Austin, Texas. His father was a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a principal in the Gracy Title Company of Austin. His mother was descended from the Littlefield family, a benefactor to the university during its early years. Littlefield House was built on the campus in 1893 for Gracy's ancestor, George Washington Littlefield, a Texas and New Mexico rancher, Austin banker and businessman, and philanthropist. In 2019, Gracy wrote a biography of his famed ancestor, A Man Absolutely Sure of Himself: Texan George Washington Littlefield. It would be the last of a half dozen books he published exploring the history of Texas.

Gracy earned bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in history from Texas Tech University. And he would remain true to his schools throughout his life.

He began his career as archivist for the Southwest Collection at his alma mater, Texas Tech University, before becoming archivist of the Southern Labor Archives and University Archives at Georgia State University from 1971 to 1977. During his time in Georgia he employed a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to develop a media program on the importance of archives to the state’s citizens, which would become a model for his later work with the Society of American Archivists. Gracy served as director of the Texas State Archives from 1977 until 1986, then created the archival and records enterprise program in the School of Information at his other alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. He remained as the Governor Bill Daniel Professor in Archival Enterprise at the school until 2011, when he assumed an emeritus position. He was a beloved mentor to many students and early career professionals.

“I feel so very lucky that I was finally able to experience [the Gracy] magic when he joined us on the Archives Leadership Faculty in 2014,” recalled SAA President Rachel Vagts. “He was a wonderfully engaged partner and supporter. I particularly treasure the memory of him walking down with us to the High Ropes course at Luther College his second year at ALI, watching for a few minutes, then disappearing and reappearing in shorts and tennis shoes. He asked for a waiver to sign and then jumped right in on the challenges on the course!”

Gracy's professional activity was legendary. He was founding editor of Georgia Archive (now Provenance), the first archival journal published by a state or regional organization. The journal received an Award of Merit from the Society of American Archivists in 1975. Later, the Society of Georgia Archivists established an award in Gracy’s honor recognizing a superior contribution to each issue of Provenance. He served on the editorial boards of American Archivist (1976 to 1979) and Libraries and Culture (1985 to 2005), where he also served as editor (2005 to 2011). For a generation of archivists he was known as the author of the seminal volume Archives and Manuscripts: Arrangement and Description (SAA, 1977).

Gracy's leadership also included serving as president of SAA (1983 to 1984), during which time he initiated the “Archives in Society” program to focus on the value, relevance, and significance of archives and archivists to all members of society. He created the Task Force on Archives and Society in 1983, which commissioned a social marketing study (popularly known as the "Levy Report") of the image of archives and archivists by resource allocators. In 1989, he joined with others to found the Academy of Certified Archivists, serving as the regent responsible for outreach to professional archivists and later as ACA president (1999 to 2000). He was an unwavering participant in state, regional, and national conferences as a session speaker, program organizer, or enthusiatic attendee. He chaired SAA's 75th Anniversary Task Force which culminated in a grand conference in Chicago in 2011.

“I knew of David for years, but it was not until I did a series of workshops in Austin for the UT [iSchool] that I really got to know him. He would meet me at the airport, take me sightseeing around Austin, take me out to dinner at Salt Lick and other places, and introduce me to the workshops in the most extravagant and flattering way possible,” recalled Steve Hensen, retired, Duke University. “I always looked forward to seeing David at SAA meetings and I rarely escaped without at least a hearty and warm greeting and a Longhorn sticker on my [name] badge.”

Among his many honors, Gracy was named a Fellow of SAA in 1979, a Fellow of the Texas State Genealogical Society in 1981, a Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association in 1992, and a Fellow of the Society of Georgia Archivists in 2009. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Academy of Certified Archivists in 2011. In his home state, he received the San Jacinto Award for distinguished service to Texas history in 1993 as well as the Katherine Drake Hart history preservation award from the Austin History Center Association in 2005. 

“Dr. Gracy was such a kind, generous and supportive scholar, archivist, and preservationist,” said Rebecca Hankins, Librarian/Curator of Africana/Women's & Gender Studies at Texas A&M University.

And the honors continue. The Society of Southwest Archivists recently established the David B. Gracy II Student Scholarship. And Georgia State University will offer its first Dr. David B. Gracy II Graduate Research Assistantship for Special Collections and Archives in 2021. 

To view an oral history interview of Dr. Gracy that was conducted by Jim Fogerty in August 2009, click here.

The Society of American Archivists invites you to share your memories below of Dr. David B. Gracy II. 

flecknerj says:
David Gracy

I admired so much about David.  His extraordinary energy and dedication to the profession were an inspiration.  I always looked forward to receiving my Longhorn sticker at the annual meeting and to catch up, at least briefly.  His historical and archival writings were thoughtful and convincing.  His leadership of SAA as president and in other roles set a high bar to his colleagues over generations.  I miss him.  

Landi705 says:
David Gracy -- Mentor, Friend, Advocate

David was very influential early in my career. During my last semester at Texas Christian University working on my MA in history (with an archives administration minor), my wife and I relocated to Austin. I needed one additional archives practicuum as part of my coursework. David, at the time the State Archivist for Texas, provided me with that opportunity. Later that decade, while I was working at what is now UT Austin's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, David recruited me to take some of the initial classes he was developing in the new archival enterprise track at UT's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I was part of the first archival enterprise and preservation seminars that he taught.

I fondly remember the UT GSLIS alumni gatherings that David hosted at SAA annual conferences. Anyone was welcome, provided you let David put a UT Longhorns sticker on your name badge.

Larry Landis

thyry says:
David Gracy, legend

While I cannot claim a close relationship with David Gracy, his warmth, vision, and passion for the field touched me like so many others.  I was introduced to him at my first SAA conference and he promptly stuck a Longhorn sticker on my nametag and said, "surely Tom, you support graduate archival education at the University of Texas!"  I can say I've worked with and hired several of his former students and the legacy of accomplishment among that large cohort in itself represents a major contribution to the field.  Finally, I was able to see David speak the last time we were able to gather in person, in 2019 in Austin.  That visit to the Church of Gracy left me inspired, a little choked up, and feeling part of something bigger than myself.  He was a truly gifted and wonderful man and archivist and my condolences go out to his family, his former students and colleagues, and all who loved him.  

Tom Hyry

marqu897 says:
Master of Archival Advocacy

I have such a clear memory of David at the initial meeting of the Committee on Public Information, in Atlanta in the early 1980s.  I think it was in his hotel room, and it was absurdly early in the morning.  The rest of us were blinking and trying to formulate thoughts, but David was wide awake, energetic, and so excited that we were finally going to be working on the recommendations of the Task Force on Archives and Society.  I'm seeing him referred to as a cheerleader a lot, and he definitely was that, for the entire profession.  Because of David's leadership we went from shrugging our shoulders and thinking no one would ever value what we do, to actively shaping the world's perception of our profession.  -- Kathy Marquis

jasfcartw says:
Dr. Grracy

Dr. Gracy was always gracious, humorous, and professional throughout my associations with him over the years. I was pleased to know him.

James Cartwright, University Archivist, retred; University of Hawaii