Newton Teacher’s Pop Culture Collection Comes to UMass Boston

Anna Pinkert | April 23, 2015
Rachel Rubin and Jo Ellen Hillyer inspect a B.B. King poster.

Rachel Rubin and Jo Ellen Hillyer inspect a B.B. King poster.
Image by: Anna Pinkert

Walking into Allan MacDougall and Jo Ellen Hillyer’s Brookline home is like walking into a temple of music history. From B.B. King posters to rare comic books to an Edison phonograph with dozens of original wax cylinders, Allan MacDougall collected hundreds of music and popular culture related objects before his death in 2012. Now, his widow Jo Ellen Hillyer has donated his entire collection to UMass Boston’s Center for the Study of Humanities, Culture, and Society, where it will form the Allan MacDougall Popular Culture Archive.

Edison cylinder and phonograph

In January, movers started carefully packing up CDs, records, music magazines, comic books, and posters while Hillyer looked on with Rachel Rubin, professor of American Studies at UMass Boston and director the Center for the Study of Humanities, Culture, and Society.

“I am so grateful to UMass Boston that they are indeed going to regard it as his legacy,” said Hillyer. “This was his dream.”

Rubin took an interest in the collection because of the unique artifacts that MacDougall collected, including thousands of music journals and magazines, some of which are incredibly hard to find. Rubin says that for historical researchers, digital copies of music don’t give the whole picture. She says the archive will be valuable to students and faculty for generations to come.

Jo Ellen Hillyer and Rachel Rubin

“Seeing a record with its album art, or seeing the ads that ran next to articles in music magazines tells us something about that era and its values,” said Rubin.

MacDougall (as his friends, and even his wife, called him), was an avid collector of pop culture paraphernalia from the time he was a teenager. He was interested in music and popular culture as a fan, a performer, and as an academic. He hosted annual rock n’ roll revue concerts in Newton in his stage persona, “Rocco.” He and Hillyer were both teachers at Newton North High school, where MacDougall’s class on popular culture was a favorite among the students.

“He was really revered at Newton North. He was really special. He was charismatic, but, as you can get a sense, he was really an academic,” said Hillyer of her late husband. “So he was that interesting combination of Mr. Wonderful, but also Mr. I Know Everything!”

On the evening of their wedding in 1976, Hillyer went to bed with a bad back. MacDougall told his new wife, “Goodnight, I’m going to the record store!” MacDougall returned with even more records that the store’s owners had given him to celebrate his new marriage. The enormous collection eventually took over almost every room of the couple’s home. Vintage children’s records sat alongside recordings of obscure jazz combos and an Elvis bobblehead. MacDougall didn’t limit himself to a single genre or era of popular culture.

Even the heavily tattooed professional movers paused for a moment of nostalgia as they examined the floor-to-ceiling shelf of CDs in the dining room – admiring a few albums they hadn’t seen since high school.

Though she had not always enjoyed living with MacDougall’s overflowing bookshelves and boxes, Hillyer said that it was hard to watch box after box of books and magazines get packed away.

“He was the love of my life, and I still miss him.”

When Hillyer found out that UMass Boston was interested in the collection, she thought it was a terrific match. She and MacDougall both wanted the collection to be made available to as many people as possible. UMass Boston’s public mission resonated with them.

“I think of UMass Boston as for the human beings out there. That is beyond perfect in terms of where this collection is going.”

On Friday, April 24, members of the UMass Boston Pop Culture Studies community will celebrate the opening of the Allan D. MacDougall Popular Culture Archive with a reception on Thompson Island from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Faculty members will give brief presentations on some of the items in the collection, and researchers interested in the collection will have the chance to eat and mingle together.

Tags: american studies , center for the study of humanities, culture, and society , cla , liberal arts , macdougall , music , newton , pop culture

Comment on this story

Comments (4)

Posted by Martha sweet | April 26, 2015 - 9:54 p.m.

This is a fabulous development. MacDougall had a profound affect on those of us who knew him. What a great outcome.


Posted by Ursula Tafe | April 24, 2015 - 10:48 a.m.

I am a Newton North graduate, and not having “Mr. MacDougall” as a teacher was one of my biggest regrets. The ‘Rocco’ shows were the highlight of every year. I am so glad that his collection will be housed at UMass Boston.


Posted by Yvonne Davey | April 24, 2015 - 8:39 a.m.

So many wonderful memories of a unique, iconoclastic, gentle music man whose intellect and way with high schoolers is legendary!
  It is a special remembrance to be treasured at a place of learning that MacDougall and his wife Jo Ellen chose so well.
    UMass Boston educates with a finger on the pulse of the urban youngster ready to blossom. MacDougall taught with the universal language of music and generosity of spirit. In this archive, his spirit and knowledge will live on in a most meaningful way.


Posted by Brad Stolbach | April 24, 2015 - 12:46 a.m.

Congratulations to UMass Boston for preserving and extending MacDougall’s legacy. He taught so many of us so much about American popular culture, of which he was truly a walking, talking, singing, rocking encyclopedia. To see his alter ego, Rocco Locantore in action, go to https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3bxHuqk8wjHlpEuwos_Ggifj4uqC5_8P&action_edit=1 and for a celebration of MacDougall’s life: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3bxHuqk8wjGoE41Ye9DJHeMU6q8JTtue