As a Canuck I suppose I can be forgiven for not knowing about Huntington Cairns ... some of our American friends might be interested in this piece about him from the Free-Lance Star:
Cairns became chief administrative, financial, and legal officer of the gallery in 1943. Serving concurrently in this post and as trustee of Mellon's Bollingen Foundation, Cairns was for a quarter of a century the nation's arts and humanities grant-maker par excellence.
The Bollingen Fellows were a who's who of poets, philosophers, and critics during the '40s, '50s, and '60s, and Bollingen Books became a distinguished imprint.
Cairns conceived the idea for the gallery's A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, a series that introduced U.S. audiences to thinkers such as Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, and Herbert Read.
He persuaded Mellon to fund Allen Tate's proposal for a national poetry award. In 1960, Cairns secured Mellon's support to establish the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, an institution that has sustained many classical scholars, including the redoubtable author of "The Oldest Dead White European Males," longtime center director Bernard Knox.
Cairns was influential, too, in Mellon's gift to the National Park Service establishing the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Never a prude, Cairns was an erudite opponent of Comstockery. He respected the sexually explicit works of James Joyce and Henry Miller.
But what would this civilized man have done if he had been asked to underwrite the exhibition of a Madonna in dung or a crucifix in urine? Having been acquainted with Cairns, I cannot imagine such things meeting his approval.
And he still had time to write
For all his productivity as an impresario of arts philanthropy, Cairns still found time to write and edit books.
His best-selling work is the volume he edited with Edith Hamilton, "The Collected Dialogues of Plato." Still in print, this was the first English-translation edition to compile the complete works of Plato in a single volume.
Another Cairns work that still enjoys wide readership is his literary anthology, "The Limits of Art."
Throughout his career and retirement, Cairns maintained a kindly sense of humor. He never took himself seriously.
At least as great as his mastery of intellectual disciplines was his talent for friendship. During the late 1970s, when I was fresh out of college and working in journalism in North Carolina, he took me under his wing.
Far from being an aesthetic snob, he relished the humor of pop culture. When I would visit him, he would announce to me, sometimes breathless with enthusiasm, his latest anthropological finds along the Carolina back roads and the AM radio dial.
I'll never forget the gleam in Cairns' eyes when he told me he had just heard a new song on the radio, Bobby Bare's "Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through the Goalposts of Life." Keats himself cannot have been more radiant with delight when he first looked into Chapman's Homer.
For vacation and retirement, Cairns built one of the first houses in the Southern Shores development in Kitty Hawk, a low, sprawling affair tucked away into the dune, scented everywhere with salt air.
Place for poets
Higher up the dune he built a guest house that he proudly told visitors he had designed "on the proportions of the Parthenon." In Cairns' guest lodgings Robert Frost wrote the poem "Kitty Hawk."
Cairns died in 1985, during the bitterest cold wave in many years, a day after Ronald Reagan's second inauguration. His wife, Florence, daughter of Marion Butler, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, survived him for a short while.
The childless couple's property was sold at auction. Some philistine razed both the main house and the guest house and built a gaudy hulking pile in its place.
Cairns' memory endures down the road from Kitty Hawk on the National Seashore, and in Roanoke Island's beautiful Elizabethan Gardens, whose development he had worked so hard to promote.
In Baltimore, his generosity (nearly $2 million from his own estate) sustains research in literary criticism at Johns Hopkins.
In Washington, his spirit pervades the wooded campus of the Center for Hellenic Studies and the cool marble halls of the National Gallery of Art.
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.