Doug Oâ€™Dell, a 35-year resident of Chapel Hill, passed away on March 23, 2007, at the age of 53. He was a Morehead Scholar, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and, for over 25 years, the owner and operator of Chapel Hill Rare Books. He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Maureen Oâ€™Dell, and a sister, Kayse Dean of Creve Coeur, Missouri. A memorial service is being planned for Sunday, May 20, in the afternoon. If you would like to be informed of the details of the service, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Chapel Hill Rare Books, P.O. Box 456, Carrboro, NC, 27510. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to Doctors without Borders (www.doctorswithoutborders.org).
Doug was a native of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. He lived for a time in coastal North Carolina, but called Chapel Hill home for most of his adulthood. He came to his chosen profession, that of a rare book seller, early in life. Always a voracious reader, he learned how to buy and sell books for profit as a youth, just to be able to purchase volumes for his own library. He was aided in this endeavor by a nearly photographic memory, enabling him to recall, in literally thousands of instances, the detailed minutiae which separates rare and valuable books from the commonplace. His keen intellect was also manifested in his academic studies and was reflected in his receipt of the prestigious Morehead Scholarship at the University of North Carolina. He excelled at science as well as antiquarian pursuits, and worked for a time in the bacteriology laboratory of the University of North Carolina Hospital.
He was also a championship runner, wrestler and weight lifter in high school and college. He was an enthusiastic amateur herpetologist, who once collected venomous species for medical science and enjoyed raising the colorful, but harmless Honduran milk snakes. He loved to hunt and fish, to tell the stories that come with all sport, and to watch the Tar Heels win. He frequently found his recreation on the golf course and around the pool table.
Most of his time, however, was devoted to his work as the proprietor of Chapel Hill Rare Books. After founding the business in 1977, Doug soon became recognized as one of the leading dealers in the country, who had few rivals in the South. He was a longstanding member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and was widely respected for his scholarship as well as his business acumen. His specialty was the history and literature of the Southeastern United States, and his inventory contained some of the finest books, maps and manuscripts to ever describe the region. A Virginian by birth and a North Carolinian by choice, Doug had a deep appreciation for the richness of Southern history. He was a leading authority on the published history and manuscript records of the Confederacy, but he also sold rare books and manuscripts documenting the experiences of all walks of life. He was particularly interested in African American history, and in few places outside of his shop would one expect to find original photographs of Langston Hughes and John Lee Hooker, or the correspondence of Booker T. Washington and Ralph Bunche, laid so near to the original letters of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. His interests were in no way restricted to an individual time or place, and his inventory included eyewitness accounts of early travel from around the globe; original 19th and early 20th century photographs of the West, American Indians, and the Klondike Gold Rush; works on all subjects illustrated with fine engravings or color plates; accounts of important advances in medicine, botany and zoology; hand-press books dating from the first century of printing (the 1400â€™s) and from the first decades of printing in his native Shenandoah Valley; beautiful copies of many of the great modern first editions; the personal correspondence of Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence and William Faulkner; and other treasures too diverse and numerous to mention here.
Part of his success as a bookseller lay in his acquisition of some of the finest private collections which became available locally and around the nation. Many of these collections were owned by people with little knowledge of rare books, who placed their trust in Doug to deal with them honestly. He gained this trust with his respectful, friendly and forthright manner, and his well-deserved reputation for fairness. He believed in the open and free dissemination of information, and generously shared his expertise with anyone who would ask.
Doug will be affectionately remembered as an accomplished scholar, an esteemed businessman, a worthy sportsman, a loyal friend and a loving husband. He will be missed.