Last Friday (September 18, 2009) was an historic day for APU. I was honored to present the highest recognition our university can bestow on someone–an honorary doctorate. I wish you were all there to witness the event! Glen Dawson is a generous and amazing man, with a wealth of experience and knowledge that he has shared with us over the years.
Below is the speech I made to a gathering of many of Glen’s family and friends, as well as a few from the university community.
Robert Kirsch, the longtime book review editor of the Los Angeles Times, once wrote, “History is too important to be left to the Ph.Ds. The right to be called historian should be earned by one’s works rather than by one’s certification.” Today we have evidence of that truth in the life of Glen Dawson.
Glen, a graduate of Los Angeles High School and UCLA, is a longtime Pasadena resident. He is an internationally recognized antiquarian book dealer, a foremost authority on books and printing, and a leader among the world’s bibliophiles. Modest and unassuming, Glen has served the great collectors and great libraries of California with distinction. He has been the catalyst for launching more library and historical programs and publications than we have time to list. For example, he published 370 books that carry the imprint of Dawson’s Book Shop, which is considerably more than any bookseller we know of in our nation’s history. By his works, therefore, he exemplifies the best of what it means to be a disseminator of historical knowledge–and the right to be called “historian.”
Among those 370 books, Glen published a fifty-volume Early California Travels Series and a fifty-volume Baja California Travels Series, in addition to a Los Angeles Miscellany series and a Famous California Trials series. Indeed, his publications are among some of our most important and finest printed books on Los Angeles, the Southland, and California. In one decade alone, 1963 to 1972, Glen published an astounding total of 123 books—averaging one a month, and nineteen in the year 1972! All of this productivity came after his father, Ernest Dawson, had early advised him against publishing.
Dawson’s Book Shop publications bear the stamp of Glen’s personal guidance and careful reading and checking as editor and publisher: W.W. Robinson’s Maps of Los Angeles, Neal Harlow’s Maps of the Pueblo Lands of Los Angeles, Robinson and Lawrence Clark Powell’s The Malibu, Harris Newmark’s Sixty Years in Southern California, Lloyd Currey and Dennis Kruska’s Bibliography of Yosemite, Jane Easton’s Marbling: A History and a Bibliography, and leaf books on the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, Aitken Bible and King James Bible are but a handful of examples that could be mentioned.
He has done all of this with an active and transparent Christian witness that remains gracious and generous. A longtime member of Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena and a participant with a group of men from his church known as the “Encouragers,” Glen has quietly supported missionary and related church efforts while also quietly helping fledgling collectors and libraries build their collections, and new booksellers start their businesses.
At Azusa Pacific University, we stand alongside the others who are grateful to Glen Dawson for his assistance. He shared with us his expertise on rare books and fine printing at the very start of our special collections endeavor. He was available during our trial-and-error period to mentor us and help shape the direction and content of the collection, valued today at over three million dollars. He was present at the creation. It bears his imprint.
But there is more to Glen Dawson that deserves mentioning. At age sixteen he climbed the Matterhorn, and from the late 1920s through the 1940s he was one of a handful of our nation’s premier mountain climbers. He was the first to scale the east face of Mount Whitney, the first to climb one of the Minarets, now named after him, and he has climbed all the 14,000 foot peaks in California—and many impressive peaks elsewhere. He did all of this without the advanced equipment of today’s climbers. He summed up his climbing adventures with these words: “We were not concerned with insurance or liability. We knew there were risks involved but felt they were our risks.” Glen also was an accomplished skier who served in the Alpine Division of the United States Army in Italy during World War II.
Glen also worked briefly for the FBI, an interesting adventure that befell him when Steven Bloomberg, the notorious book thief of a couple of decades ago, was caught and the loot of his thievery spread out in a giant warehouse. It was Glen Dawson that the FBI called to come and help sort out the stolen property and find the rightful owners. This was recognition of his stature and trust in the book world. Glen proudly wore his FBI cap afterwards.
One cannot describe Glen Dawson without mentioning miniature books. Ninety-two titles carry Dawson’s Book Shop imprint, starting with the first one in 1949, the printing of a miniature on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for a Lincoln collector, and ending in 1994 with Glen’s bibliography of miniature books written or edited by Monsignor Francis J. Weber. Weber, a major author and collector in the field himself, refers to Glen as the “doyen of miniature books,” pointing out the 195 miniature book lists, four catalogues, eight articles in the Miniature Book Society Newsletter, and five miniatures that Glen produced while lecturing widely on the subject. Glen’s wife Mary Helen and daughters Karen and Susan participated in the enterprise, as did brother Muir—all helping to make Los Angeles an important gateway to the miniature book world.
In conclusion, Glen has generated respect, loyalty, and lasting friendship by his honesty and hospitality. His influence on readers and collectors of books is as great as that of any bookseller in the state. It is no accident that Dawson’s Book Shop, the oldest bookshop in Los Angeles, became the gathering place and forum for readers, authors, printers, collectors, and librarians. Glen’s sixty-one years as a partner with Muir helped to change the cultural landscape of Los Angeles in terms of the printed book.
Therefore, by the power vested in me by the State of California and by the Board of Trustees of Azusa Pacific University, I hereby confer upon Glen Dawson, the degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Congratulations!