I first met Huntley when I was an adolescent growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. We met in a political youth group, and Huntley quickly became a friend and mentor. Being a few years older than I, razor smart, and a resident of the big city of Regina, he was someone to look up to. Since then our friendship grew and lives intersected in many ways over many decades.
We attended political meetings, worked in campaigns, and travelled together. Our academic journeys also converged at many points. I have fond memories of visiting him when he was studying at both McGill and MIT. When I joined the Foreign Service in 1989, Huntley was in his early stages of his career at Carleton, and having a common Ottawa base allowed us to carry on a close friendship.
Being a few years older than I, and a couple of years ahead academically, Huntley was a source of much academic wisdom. In one instance, he was also a source of very precise and valuable academic intelligence. While an undergrad at the University of Saskatchewan, he took a year prior to me, the same geography class I was taking. While I was preparing for a mid-term, Huntley kindly pointed out to me that the professor of the course seldom altered the questions on his exams from year to year. As was usually the case, Huntley was right. His clairvoyance in the test questions certainly did not hinder my preparations, and I got an A in the class. Thanks Huntley.
Although spending almost all of his life in Canada, Huntley was actually born in the United States—in Jamaica, New York. When I was about eighteen I took a summer French course in Quebec, and we arranged to meet up in New York City, where Huntley was taking a summer university course. One of the highlights of our visit was staying with some contacts of his in Manhattan, and at one point, we moved across a number of buildings by transferring from one roof top to another. We were not quite supermen, but the experience gave Huntley and I a unique view of the great city.
After New York, Huntley and I travelled back to Saskatchewan on the Greyhound bus system—a long ride. We stopped in Minnesota to visit some of Huntley’s relatives. Huntley’s parents grew up in Minnesota and they attended the same college as Vice-President Walter Mondale. During the visit I met Huntley’s paternal Grandfather. Tall and lanky like Huntley, he was veteran of the First World War. The meeting was a conversation with history.
After completing his first degree, Huntley took on the position of chair of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Association. At the time, both of us lived in Regina. Huntley’s maternal grandmother (who happened to be a fashion model in New York in the 1920s) was also living in Regina so that she could be close to her family. She was also a tremendous cook. I mention this because Huntley and I shared a life-long passion for food. If I happened to be with Huntley while he was stopping by to visit his grandmother, the conversations would end with Huntley’s grandmother asking “would you boys like to stay for a meal.” The answer was always yes, and the meals were always superb. They were also much appreciated by two hungry young men whose meal preparation skills largely consisted of opening bags of potato chips.
Huntley lived life to the fullest. He had an intense curiosity, a penetrating mind, and an interest in exploring how the world could be a better place. It is hard to believe that Huntley is gone. His intelligence, enjoyment of life, and commitment to others touched the lives of many. He was what you could call a “rational humanist.”
Unfortunately, one area in which Huntley’s life and mine crossed paths was in the area of critical illness. About four years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I remember Huntley coming over to my house one night and in the middle of the conversation informing me that he too had cancer, but a much more serious case than mine. During the following months, we would run in to each other at the Ottawa Cancer Centre while we were having our respective treatments. Running in to someone you know since your youth at that kind of treatment centre is an ironic twist of life, but even under these trying circumstances, he was always cheerful and optimistic, with only positive things to say about everybody around him.
The saying (not used too frequently in our digital age) that someone is a “scholar and a gentleman” certainly applies to Huntley, for he clearly was both a scholar, and a gentleman.
Huntley was not a religious man, and I doubt if he believed in an after-life. But if there is an academic heaven, Huntley is there now, reading, discussing life with friends, and enjoying a bag of potato chips.