Leonard A. Rapport, 95; Archivist And Author

Leonard Rapport became an avid trekker late in life. His last trek was across Ireland, at 80.
Leonard Rapport became an avid trekker late in life. His last trek was across Ireland, at 80. (Family Photo)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 12, 2008

Leonard A. Rapport, a leading archivist of records documenting the American Revolution and co-author of a celebrated book about paratroopers in World War II, died March 17 of congestive heart failure at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He was 95 and lived in Washington.

Mr. Rapport spent most of his career at the National Archives, where he became a leading authority on 18th-century documents, particularly ones relating to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the Bill of Rights. His writings on archival methods, including the appraisal and identification of historical records, were highly regarded.

Before he became an archivist, Mr. Rapport wrote about his experiences as a paratrooper in a well-received book, "Rendezvous With Destiny: A History of the 101st Airborne Division." The 1948 book, written with Arthur Northwood Jr., received lavish praise in a New York Times review: "For sheer adventure few writers of fiction surpass this real-life, name-and-date story of men bound together in a combat outfit."

Mr. Rapport was born in Durham, N.C., and studied at the University of North Carolina with R.D.W. Connor, who in 1934 became the first archivist of the United States.

After graduating in 1935, Mr. Rapport worked for the UNC Press and wrote fiction on the side. His 1936 short story "The Night the Bucket Fell," first published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, was reprinted in "Best Short Stories of 1937" and received a higher star rating than stories by John Dos Passos, Eudora Welty and Thomas Wolfe.

From 1938 to 1941, Mr. Rapport participated in the Southern Writers' Project, interviewing colorful figures in North Carolina. Several of his oral histories were printed in the "Treasury of Southern Folklore," "First-Person America" and other publications, including The Washington Post.

He served in the Army from 1941 to 1948 and collaborated with Northwood to document the dramatic wartime history of the 101st Airborne, which participated in D-Day and played a crucial part in defeating German forces in World War II.

"Rendezvous With Destiny" used the documentary techniques that Mr. Rapport later built on at the National Archives. According to the New York Times, the co-authors "collected minute scraps of pertinent information -- diary entries and on-the-spot recollections -- that . . . give a clarity and completeness unequaled in many such projects heretofore published."

In 1957, Mr. Rapport received a master's degree in history from George Washington University while continuing his work on some of the nation's most cherished historical documents at the National Archives. He was associate editor of the "Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights" from 1958 to 1969 and later studied and collected records from the 1787 convention at which the U.S. Constitution was written.

Mr. Rapport received grants from the Ford Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities and was named a fellow of the Society of American Archivists. He retired in 1984.

Late in life, he embarked on a series of long walks, beginning with a hike along the Appalachian Trail through Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. He also walked coast to coast in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, bedding down at night in a sleeping bag he carried on his back. He made his final long-distance trek across Ireland when he was 80.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Virginia Rapport of Washington; two children, Jody Lynn Rapport of Washington and Russell Rapport of Austin; and a granddaughter.

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