My cousin Franklin once said, “the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself.”¹ It was in this spirit, I believe, that Huntley lived his life. He was always open to new people and new experiences and was not deterred in pursuing them by any of the sorts of fears that plague most of us. He attributed his fearlessness to “[having] an unusually high level of optimism.” Whether it was what he called “gladed trails” in downhill ski areas—“off-trail” to most others—or sending his research papers as a then-unknown young economist at Carleton University to top researchers in his field at Princeton and Chicago—including an eventual Nobel laureate—and soliciting their views, Huntley was unafraid to do the unconventional. And his approach seemed to work: he never broke any bones on the ski slope and he induced the top researchers to spend considerable time and energy giving substantial feedback on his papers.
One Easter Monday several years ago, I received a call from Huntley in the early afternoon offering to take me along with another friend on a historical tour of Hintonburg and Mechanicsville, based on a book on these Ottawa neighbourhoods that he had purchased on a whim and read the day before. Since it was a beautiful spring day, I couldn’t turn down this offer, even if it was spur-of-the-moment. Using the book as our guide, we discovered geological evidence of the Gloucester fault, a crack in the earth’s surface where the west side of the fault fell three hundred metres during an earthquake more than one million years ago.
We read about the Capuchin monks who were kicked out of France in the late 1800s and found a new home in Hintonburg, where they eventually built Saint-François d’Assise, an enormous French Catholic church to minister to the residents of the neighborhood at a time when Hintonburg was the second-largest French-speaking neighborhood in Ottawa. The book contained an excerpt from the memoirs of a woman who had grown up completely in French in the neighborhood. This excerpt prompted some questions in Huntley’s mind about life at that time and the subsequent changes that had taken place. In an inspired moment, he spotted an older man, sitting on a bench near the church, whom he suspected might have been a long-time Francophone resident of the neighborhood. The three of us approached the fellow, and Huntley addressed him in French, which is a very unusual thing to do in that neighborhood in the present century. His guess turned out to be correct. The elderly man had lived in the neighborhood since birth, and they chatted in French for quite a while about his personal experiences and the history of the neighborhood. This story illustrates much more of course about Huntley that simply being unafraid of complete strangers, but such fearlessness was at the root of his being in my estimation.
Inspired moments leading to immediate bold action were also common in Huntley’s dealings with higher-level University officials, both while he was Chair of the Carleton Economics Department and afterwards. And his approach was deliberately contagious. In my first year as Department Chair, he counselled me very convincingly and enthusiastically using the analogy of jumping into a swimming pool for the first time on a cool day to go straight to the Provost to make the Department’s case for more resources. I did so and met with some success but would never have tried that in the first place had I not been emboldened by Huntley’s words. Just as a quick aside: God help anyone at my level who would undertake to go over the Dean’s head these days now that the governance model at universities has shifted very much from the collegial to the corporate!
In summary, Huntley never let fear stop him from living his life on his own terms. He didn’t always succeed in this approach, but at least he had no regrets, derived great enjoyment much of the time, and gave great enjoyment to others in his company.
¹ From F.D.R.’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1933. James Cole (1600?–1692?) of Plymouth, Massachusetts is my nine-times-great-grandfather and F.D.R.’s six-times-great-grandfather making the latter my seventh cousin thrice removed.