Many of the folks you’ll hear from today are highly polished professional speakers, accustomed to orating before a classroom, a courtroom, or a legislature. I’m not that kind of speaker.
I’ve known Huntley since our tempestuous teenage years. Lahouaria told me I can recite my “Unabridged and Uncensored Book of Huntley Anecdotes” to her on another occasion, so I’ve chosen to organize just a few of those today around the recurring themes of Huntley’s perennial Christmas letters.
Formulaic as they may have been, Huntley’s Christmas letters displayed his commitment to regularly refreshing his relationships with his wide range of friends and associates, as well as his desire to live a balanced, meaningful life each day and each year. Accordingly, most of my visits with Huntley usually followed the same formula.
Let’s review the Christmas letter formula together, shall we?
• What I’ve been doing
• What I ate that’s memorable
• What I’ve been reading and thinking
• Who I’m hanging out with other than you
This implied that a “successful” visit with Huntley should include:
• Take him outside and run him around
• Feed him
• Scout local entertainment options
• Swap ideas and stories
• Send him home with a book
“What I’ve been doing” inevitably included tales of Huntley’s physical activities, professional highlights, travels, and cultural events. Here as elsewhere Huntley’s tastes were notoriously eclectic. I’ve intermittently played tennis with Huntley over the decades, but I’ve also on occasion prevailed on various Winnipeg friends to take him cycling, skiing, or to play squash. Each of them remembered Huntley fondly, despite meeting him rarely or only once.
I admit that nothing quite prepared me for my first observation of Huntley’s morning exercise routine. I entered my kitchen to discover him obliviously engaged in some on-the-spot calisthenics and isometrics. My initial surprise was rapidly replaced by the thought that I should close my gaping jaw and wipe the “WTF?” look off my face before he turned around.
Wherever I could travel at my own expense, Huntley could usually find some equally exotic locale where he’d managed to combine business with pleasure. Perhaps some of you accompanied him, co-presented with him, or hosted him on some of these excursions.
Huntley’s cultural interests were similarly diverse, as many of you can likely attest. In the 1970s, Huntley and I (along with an assortment of other Saskatchewan denizens) attended one of the earliest Winnipeg Folk Festivals. Although we now all own plenty of moisture-wicking, quick-drying clothing and breathable Gore-Tex with taped seams, a sudden downpour at our first festival meant being soaked to the skin in uncomfortable cotton. Despite this, Huntley decided that his most pressing need was to keep the rain off his glasses. Unafraid, or perhaps actively courting alien contact, he fashioned a “hat” out of some leftover tinfoil that had previously contained homemade baking.
Over the intervening years, together we attended folk concerts, jazz concerts, foreign films, fringy plays, art galleries and museums, and other variations on a cultural theme. During one of my recent memorable visits to Ottawa, Huntley, Lahouaria, and I had a picnic on the river, followed by a film and lecture by Jane Goodall.
Anyone who’s ever eaten with Huntley knows that he liked to savour every mouthful. Slowly. V-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Sleep could overtake fellow diners while Huntley continued to nibble on appetizers. The goal wasn’t just to cram some calories in, but to try new foods prepared in new and exquisite ways—the more exotic the better. Part of the “hosting Huntley” package was to find restaurants offering such fare.
Since he was a teenager, Huntley always had a keen interest in books and ideas, and an insatiable appetite for both. This led him to seek and nourish relationships with like-minded folks who could add to his prodigious store of knowledge, challenge his premises, debate his conclusions, or just engage in some verbal pyrotechnics. For an apparently secular person, text was more-or-less sacred for Huntley. I’ve lent books to professional librarians who’ve felt quite free to casually pass them on to others without my knowledge, on the not-unreasonable premise that books are meant to be read. Not so Huntley. You could lend Huntley a dog-eared, second-hand copy of a book you could easily borrow from a library or re-acquire inexpensively, and Huntley would feel obliged to spend more than it was worth to return it to you when he was done with it, usually as a precursor to enthusiastically discussing its contents.
Since Huntley could be something of a name-dropper in his Christmas letters, I was initially inclined to suggest that I might potentially “know” some of you a bit better than you think, but then I thought better of it for fear that the converse might also be true. That said, I nonetheless look forward to swapping some tall Huntley tales with some of his fellow Christmas-letter recipients during the informal part of today’s gathering.
Thank you all for joining us today to celebrate Huntley’s magnificently eclectic life.