SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Former California State Librarian Kevin Starr, who is deemed the pre-eminent historian of the Golden State, has died. He was 76.
Starr died of a heart attack Saturday at a hospital in San Francisco, his wife, Sheila Starr said Sunday.
Starr, a professor at the University of Southern California, researched and wrote “Americans and the California Dream,” a series of books considered the definitive account of the California story.
“Kevin Starr chronicled the history of California as no one else. He captured the spirit of our state and brought to life the characters and personalities that made the California story. His vision, like California itself, was bigger than life,” Gov. Jerry Brown said.
Starr, who was both an accomplished scholar and an effective public figure, was appointed state librarian by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994 and served until 2004 under governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who named him State Librarian Emeritus.
The 2006 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, Starr was a fourth-generation San Franciscan who was raised in a Catholic orphanage. He graduated from the University of San Francisco, served in the U.S. Army and went on to earn his Ph.D. in American literature at Harvard University.
A practicing Catholic, Starr was working on a series of books about the history of the Catholic church in Mexico, the United States and Canada. The first book in the series titled “Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: the Colonial Experience,” was published in November.
“Kevin wrote ‘til the day he died. He was a productive and indefatigable scholar and the greatest historian of California,” said longtime friend and fellow USC professor Dana Gioia, who remembered his big, imposing friend walking into a San Francisco restaurant and stopping to greet to greet multiple prominent people as he made his way to his table.
“He was brilliant, jovial, kind and amusing,” Gioia said. “He was fantastically good company. People who knew him held him in enormous affection because any situation was always better if he was around.”
Starr, who joined USC’s faculty in 1989, was “our dear friend, a beloved teacher and a USC treasure, but he truly belonged to the world,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias said. “His bright mind, rigorous intellect and passion for language will be deeply missed, but his extraordinary books will continue to inform us for generations to come.”
Starr was a professor of history and policy, planning and development at the university.
Starr is survived by his wife, Sheila Starr; two daughters, Jessica Starr and Marian Starr Imperatore; and seven grandchildren.
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