I have known Huntley about 30 years—we met in the PhD programme at MIT in the mid-1980s. Huntley’s route there had been a little different to mine, I guess—but we both found ourselves strangers in a strange land where things (courses, buildings—even people) had numbers rather than names. I was student 888-06-1843 and followed Course XIV with classes in building E-51…. It was a strange place but, in Huntley, I met an open mind, a person who became a good friend over the decades….
So, what of Huntley’s intellectual openness? To me, this—along with his good-humoured, upbeat approach to life—was the essence of Huntley. Oh, and I suppose that this is an aside, but there was also his very particular trait of oh-so-carefully chewing his food—how often at lunch in Cambridge, Mass., would the rest of us have finished (or moved on to dessert) while Huntley was still methodically eating his way through some meaty brunch dish, perhaps with added whipped cream on the side after his experience in Vienna where even savoury dishes came with “schlag”…. But this little idiosyncrasy also paved the way for the long and meandering—but always fascinating and often quite intense—conversations that were such a feature of our relationship.
Huntley’s breadth of knowledge was astounding, as was his intellectual engagement. A lunch that began with talking about the Byzantine Empire after his trip to a conference in Turkey could easily move on to the European Reformation and from there to modern political issues. A conversation with Huntley was always an adventure—as we say in Italy (where I now live) “imprevedibile”¹: it could go anywhere and everywhere—the only constant being that it would be interesting and engaging!
At MIT we played squash often, although I must say that I usually lost! When I moved back to the U.K. for four years we were in only infrequent contact. Upon my return to Massachusetts our friendship picked up where it left off—Huntley has always been one of a mere handful of friends with whom my relationship can pick up “where it left off,” even after three or four years. I have vibrant memories of those lunches by the Charles in Cambridge, Mass., and dinners at David and Kathleen’s in Newburyport when Huntley came down to the U.S. for NBER meetings and conferences. Huntley’s announcement of an upcoming trip was always welcome news!
If I say that “Huntley was one of the most interesting, engaged and engaging, people I’ve ever met,” I mean it as the sincerest compliment to a friend of around thirty years’ standing. Huntley was who he was—a truly unique intellect and personality—and I doubt that I shall meet his equal again. I am, indeed we all are, richer for having known him. He is missed—and will be missed forever. Even now, in early March, writing those words brings forth a raw surge of emotion. Farewell, Huntley—I was privileged to know you.