Hugh Ambrose, a historian who played a significant role in developing the National World War II Museum, which was founded by his father in 2000, died Saturday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 48.
Ambrose served as a consultant for the 10-part World War II HBO production “The Pacific” and wrote The New York Times best-selling companion book to the miniseries.
He was the son of acclaimed biographer Stephen Ambrose, a longtime University of New Orleans history professor who spearheaded the founding of the former National D-Day Museum in the Warehouse District.
Hugh Ambrose earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in history at the University of Montana. He worked with his father on several documentaries and films, including HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and the best-sellers “Citizen Soldiers,” “Nothing Like It in the World” and “Undaunted Courage.”
In 1971, the 5-year-old Ambrose moved to New Orleans when his father returned to the city to teach at UNO.
After the museum opened in 2000, Ambrose served on its board for several years and assumed the job of vice president of development after his father died in 2002, the museum’s president and CEO, Gordon “Nick” Mueller, said.
Ambrose stayed in that role for a year before taking a consulting job with HBO during production of “The Pacific,” a project overseen by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
He later went back to work at the museum as a fundraiser and helped land “a number of significant contributions” from donors, many of whom are still involved in the museum’s work, Mueller said.
“Hugh Ambrose has left his mark on the growth and development of this museum and was always a great champion for our mission — first as the D-Day Museum, now as the National WWII Museum for our country,” Mueller wrote in an email.
In a 2011 interview with Montana Magazine, Ambrose talked about his work on “The Pacific,” which weaved the individual stories of five World War II veterans into a concise narrative of the war in the Pacific.
“It all boils down to storytelling,” he said. “That’s what history ultimately is. Good narrative history engages the reader on important issues of cause and consequence and meaning, but it does it by bringing alive a time, a place and cast of characters. And it does it in a way that the books might actually be read by non-academics.”
In his email to the museum’s trustees, Mueller described Ambrose as “a source of joy for all who watched him grow, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, studying in Europe, and then following in his father’s footsteps as author and historian.”
“Hugh had a great spirit,” Mueller added. “He was true to himself and others he loved. We will miss him greatly.”
Ambrose is survived by his wife, Andrea. A funeral Mass will be said Friday in Helena, Montana, where he had been living.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.