The life and times (so far) of Pinehurst author and historian Paul Dunn

By Meagan Burgad

Walk into the Given Book Shop in Pinehurst on a Friday morning and chances are you’ll see a dapper gentleman (89 years young) shelving books in his trademark red Converse. While it’s not out of the ordinary to see a volunteer methodically making their way through the stacks of historical fiction and true crime, it is unique for one of them to find their own name on the books they shelve. For Paul Dunn it’s a regular occurrence. In the years since Dunn and his late wife B.J. moved to Pinehurst in the 1990s, the amateur historian has written two books – Great Donald Ross Golf Courses Everyone Can Play, now in its second edition, and The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln – Including His Recurring Dreams: Volume I. 

You could say Dunn’s journey — from Navy yeoman to marketing director and advertising manager of Good Housekeeping Magazine, to president of GRI Marketing Services (a $100 million direct marketing company) to his job as a full-time author – started before he was born. Many a family historian can trace their lineage back to a semi-famous great-grandfather or third cousin twice removed who experienced fifteen minutes of fame. Paul Dunn has not one, but two acclaimed grandfathers who he can credit for passing on a solid work ethic and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of luck.

On his father’s side is Leo Dunn, a tenacious young man who worked his way up from a messenger boy for Western Union to the vice-president of the Graybar Electric Company. But it may be Charles Hanser, his maternal grandfather, with whom Dunn shares the most similarities. While working at his mother’s fish market in New Jersey, young Hanser found himself walking past a phrenologist. After scraping together 25 cents for the examination, the phrenologist felt the bumps and lumps on Hanser’s head and told the young boy to find a career in advertising. To say Hanser found success would be putting it mildly. An introduction to the young William M. Scholl (the namesake of Dr. Scholl’s) set Hanser’s advertising career rocketing. When he wasn’t traveling the world with his friend Dr. Scholl (their adventures included flights on the Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin), Hanser was working on advertising accounts like MGM and Columbia Pictures. “He was a very inspiring man,” says Dunn. 

Because Dunn had such successful, business-minded grandfathers, it must have been a shock to his family when he decided to join the Navy. But as a kid growing up in the public schools of Long Island, the lure of the G.I. Bill and the Navy’s promise to pay for his college was too great. In 1946, Dunn joined the Navy and became a yeoman. “Becoming a yeoman was actually a good thing because I learned shorthand and typing,” says Dunn. These are skills that he would later be grateful for not only in his business career but as an author as well. 

By 1947, Dunn was married with a baby on the way. He left the Navy around 1950 and started school at St. John’s University in Brooklyn, and later St. John’s School of Law. While Dunn may have started school with the purpose of becoming a lawyer, the practicality of advertising called to him. “I started having children, and I decided that instead of practicing law, maybe I should join the ad business. I had too many mouths to feed,” recalls Dunn. 

It was this decision that would shape the rest of Dunn’s career. From a lowly ad executive working his first account at Radio City Music Hall all the way to president of GRI Marketing Services, Dunn’s family was always in the forefront of his mind. 

“I have ten kids! I have a lot of kids. Ten kids and eight births, because I have two sets of twins,” Dunn says smiling. “With ten kids I needed to get rich. I had a lot of college coming up.”

Ten kids and 56-ish grandkids later (When asked how many grandchildren he has Dunn gets a big smile on his face, pauses, then says “I have, I think, 56 grandkids. I have grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.”), he was ready to retire. Dunn and his second wife, Betty Jane “B.J.,” were lured to the Sandhills by one of B.J.’s childhood friends who resided in Pinehurst. After finding a home, the couple became members of Newcomers of the Pinehurst Area, where Dunn volunteered to run the History Club. It was through the History Club that he became interested in Donald Ross. “I had never heard of Donald Ross. I had never heard about this man,” says Dunn.
“So I started going over to the Tufts Archives and I realized that nobody knows where his courses were. So I thought, well, maybe people would be interested in a book that told them where the hell these
courses are.”

Starting in 1998, Dunn researched 325 golf courses. To prove a course was designed by Donald Ross, Dunn carefully researched each location as well as visiting many of the courses. He also required the signature (from a golf professional/historian/manager) of a two-page affidavit including information on the name of the course, the year it was built, how many of the original holes were intact and how much the course cost to be designed. When Dunn first started writing the book he had lofty aspirations of including every Donald Ross course still in existence. His publisher convinced him to focus instead on Donald Ross courses everyone could enjoy. 

“The book only offers courses you can play,” says Dunn. “So if you go to any of these clubs you’re allowed to just go in and play. You just pay the price [of a round of golf]. The book has resorts, public courses and semi-private clubs. The advantage of the book was that if you were interested in Ross, you could actually know where to go, know the history, have beautiful pictures and have the pro explain how that hole should be played. So it’s actually like a guidebook.”

The first edition of Great Donald Ross Golf Courses You Can Play written by Dunn and his wife B.J. was published in 2001. In 2013, while Dunn was the historian of the Pinehurst Country Club, the couple began research on the second edition of the book renamed Great Donald Ross Golf Courses Everyone Can Play. The second edition, published in 2017, contains a forward documenting the current status of the courses mentioned in the first book, including closures or new management.  

After the passing of B.J. in 2015, Dunn wanted to continue writing but wasn’t sure what to focus on next. On top of writing a bi-monthly column for The Pilot – “It’s sort of fun. I like to offend the local Republicans,” says Dunn with a smile and a twinkle in his eye – Dunn began writing a fictional account of Lincoln’s diary titled, The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln – Including His Recurring Dreams. 

With the help of hundreds of resources, Dunn began writing his novel from the perspective of someone who had found Lincoln’s lost diaries. Relying heavily on Lincoln Day By Day – A Chronology 1809 – 1865 by Earl S. Miers, Dunn meticulously researched each day in Lincoln’s life starting in 1860. Each diary entry gives Dunn’s fictional account of what he believes Lincoln could have written in his diary as well as author notes detailing the factual events of each day. “I feel like he’s a member of my family,” says Dunn of his relationship with the iconic president. Dunn hopes to create a four-volume collection, with the first self-published volume available now, and the second volume ready later this year. 

When he’s not writing or volunteering at the Given Book Shop, you can find Dunn and his golf group playing local courses in the area. Just don’t expect to find him on Pinehurst No. 2. “I don’t play Pinehurst anymore. I’m a member, but I never play. It offends my Scots blood. They’re very expensive,” says Dunn with a laugh.

The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln – Including His Recurring Dreams and Great Donald Ross Golf Courses Everyone Can Play are available on Amazon in print as well as Kindle editions. Great Donald Ross Golf Courses Everyone Can Play is also available at local booksellers.