Huntington Woodman Curtis spent his 90th and final summer on Bailey Island, Maine eating a bit of everything that swam, crawled or lived in the sand and mud of Casco Bay.
The son of Pierson and Dr. Winifred Curtis, MD, of Stony Brook, New York, he learned to navigate by the stars with a sextant, chronometer and chart at hand when day broke. The happiest of men, he spent life asking questions and seeking solutions. He died September 13, 2011 in Newburgh, New York after a short illness.
Claiming to have been an uncertain student until Mt. Hermon School, he waited tables at the College of William and Mary before being appointed a teaching assistant and graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1942 with degrees in chemistry and physics. A grandson of Presbyterian missionaries who spent 40 years in Japan, he balanced his deep faith with a sense of national duty and enlisted in the Army Signa Corp. He spent World War II and the Korean War teaching at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and retired years later as a lieutenant colonel in the Reserves.
Known as “Hunt,” his studies led to a doctorate in electrical engineering and a faculty post at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School. He regularly left to romp around the arctic conducting ionosphere research and took a break during the International Geophysical Year to skinny dip on the Greenland ice cap.
His great passions involved science and nights spent outdoors under canvas in the rain. One of Joe Dodge’s crew at the Appalachian Mountain Club, he drove donkeys in 1947 and later became a life trustee of the Mount Washington Observatory.
Along the way, he married Peggy Parker of Goffstown, NH – a Northfield School gal who could out-hike him and do more with an ax, a match and reflector oven than anyone he’d met. A wizard with chisel and saw, she stayed home to build furniture and raise their three children.
Seeking to feed his brood, he left teaching for full-time research and the white shirt and narrow tie of an IBM engineer. From the 1960’s through the mid-1990’s he took one sick day a decade so he wouldn’t miss the fun working in a lab with men and women who were the great poets of their crafts. He retired with Emeritus Scientist status that let him poke around the lab into his 80’s.
No drone, he spent free moments tinkering with clocks, paddling the Boundary Waters or under sail somewhere between Long Island Sound and Prince Edward Island. Each March, he headed to New Hampshire where sap turns into maple syrup on the north side of Bald Mountain.
Predeceased by his wife, Margaret and daughter, Winifred, he is survived by sons, Henry of Kissimmee, FL, and Peter of Newburgh, NY, their families, grandson Parker Wayne of Pflugerville, TX and hordes of relatives and friends.
On August 18th 2012, the tribe will gather at the head of Mackerel Cove to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man with tales, John Masefield verse and really bad yodeling.
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