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Remembering beloved Rutland historian Jim Davidson

A bald man in a furry costume sits and smiles at the camera.
Photo provided
Jim Davidson in a photo provided by his family. His daughter Monica Keith said that while her father was widely known as an expert on Rutland history, he was extremely fun-loving.

Longtime Rutland historian Jim Davidson died Sunday, May 7. He was 91.

Davidson wasn’t born in Rutland, but few people knew more about the city and its founding than he did.

“Well I love history," Davidson told VPR in 2014. "And I’m very involved in local history.”

Davidson grew up in Charleston, New Hampshire and moved to Rutland in 1960 after serving two years in the Army. He taught American history for more than 30 years at the high school, college and graduate level.

In 1969, he helped create the Rutland Historical Society and was its public face for decades.

He provided a treasure trove of knowledge about the people and events that made Rutland what it is today, and he reveled in the small details of a faded town record, an old home movie or sepia toned photograph and the stories that connected them.

The individual people…individual towns and places…that's where the history of the nation is found."
Jim Davidson, in a 2016 interview with VPR

"The individual people…individual towns and places…that's where the history of the nation is found," explained Davidson in a 2016 interview. "It's not found in Washington or in the president's papers. It's found in the shoemaker or the farmer.…and there are thousands of people like that around and when you begin to sample and test that, that's what real historical life was all about.”

As technology changed, Davidson championed efforts to digitize and share local archives online. The Rutland Historical Society became one of the first in the state to go digital. It was something he was extremely proud of.

“We've had queries from England, Japan, Argentina," Davidson said. "So local history doesn't remain quite so local as you think it would.”

Davidson also hosted Historically Speaking, a monthly television show on PEG-TV for years.

In 2015, he was honored for his many efforts with a national award from the American Association of State and Local History.

Eileen Corcoran, director of service and outreach at the Vermont Historical Society, says Davidson’s legacy is that he shared his passion for so long with so many.

“He did that for Rutland and I think he was an encouraging voice for other local historical societies to do that, as well," she said.

Davidson's daughter, Monica Keith, described her father as fun-loving and said besides loving history, he was a great dancer.

Jim Davidson is survived by his wife of 66 years Helen, seven children, 13 grand kids and six great grandchildren.

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