History is of paramount importance for Special Collections & Archives, so we were particularly saddened by the recent loss of two of our own “founding fathers,” Richard Murdoch and John Woodard. Although Richard and John had been retired from ZSR Library for several years, their continued interest in Special Collections & Archives and their institutional memory will be sorely missed.

richard murdoch
Richard Murdoch (far right) with Carlton West and Merrill Berthrong, 1967

Richard Murdoch came to Wake Forest by way of Philadelphia in 1966. Hired by Library Director Merrill Berthrong to be the first Rare Books Librarian at ZSR, Richard set about building an impressive research collection. His wide-ranging interests and expertise served him well as he worked with donors, collectors, and book dealers to acquire and curate collections of printed materials and literary manuscripts. Under Richard’s direction, the Rare Books Collection became an important resource for primary sources in English, Irish, and American literature; American and Irish history; the history of material texts; and the art and craft of printing. He was instrumental in ZSR’s acquisition of many important manuscript collections, including the Dolmen Press archives and the Harold Hayes papers.

Richard eventually became Assistant Director at ZSR Library. In addition to his library work, he was an editor for the Wake Forest University Press, which was established in 1975 to publish American editions of contemporary Irish poetry. And he ran his own small letterpress printing house, Shadowy Waters Press, which published poetry and other broadsides. He also had an impact on other Winston-Salem cultural heritage institutions: after retiring from Wake Forest, he worked at Old Salem and MESDA, and he eventually became the archivist at Reynolda House.

Richard passed away suddenly in October 2019. With funds provided by a generous donor, ZSR Special Collections & Archives has created a semester-long paid internship in his honor. The Richard Murdoch Memorial Intern will work on cataloging and metadata projects in Special Collections & Archives, helping to make more accessible the collections that Richard created during his time at ZSR.

John Woodard
John Woodard (right) in the NC Baptist Historical Collection, with Juanita Miller

John Woodard arrived at ZSR Library in 1965 after working for two years at the North Carolina state archives. Like Richard Murdoch, he was hired for a newly created position. In John’s case, he was the first Director of the North Carolina Baptist Historical Collection (which was renamed in honor of Ethel Taylor Crittenden in 1967). At the time Wake Forest was still officially a Baptist school, so John worked closely with the NC Baptist State Convention to establish the denominational archives at Wake Forest. He also served as University Archivist for Wake Forest.

John was well qualified for both of these positions, as he was a lifelong Baptist and a graduate of WFU (class of 1961). He worked tirelessly to acquire materials from churches and individuals all over North Carolina and instituted a program whereby churches could bring their historic documents to the NCBHC to be microfilmed, with the originals returned to the churches if they so desired. This church records microfilming program ensured that thousands of pages of material, some dating to the 18th century, were preserved for research use. He also began a records management program for the Wake Forest institutional archives.

After Wake Forest officially severed ties with the Baptists in the early 1980s, John continued to grow and promote the NCBHC and Wake Forest Archives. In addition to the church records, he collected materials that documented other important aspects of Baptist history—such as the Woman’s Missionary Union, and early African American Baptist churches. He sought out collections from alumni and other individuals with ties to Wake Forest, and documented all aspects of campus life. By the time John retired in 2001, the collection had become an important resource for historians of North Carolina cultural and religious life, as well as for genealogists and church historians.

After suffering from cancer, John died in March 2021. Memorial contributions can be made to the Stokes County Historical Society  (PO Box 304, Danbury, NC, 27016) or the East Stokes Outreach Ministry (PO Box 973, Walnut Cove, NC, 27052).

The collections of historical material that Richard and John curated are used every day, for teaching and research within the Wake Forest community, and by students, scholars, and genealogists all over the world. The Special Collections & Archives at ZSR Library has been permanently shaped by their legacy of intellectual curiosity and their love of history.