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George Huxley (1932 - 2022):

George Huxley was a distinguished classicist with special interest in ancient Greece, and was a lifelong Hibernophile who spent the greater part of his career in Ulster, at Queen’s University, Belfast. He was a prolific author and not shy about expressing political opinions. 

Huxley was the son of Sir Leonard Huxley, a distinguished Australian physicist, and Ella Mary Child “Molly” Copeland whom he met in Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar and she was a History student at Somerville College. George’s sister Margot would also follow a successful academic career in urban planning. The family was related to biologist Thomas Huxley and writer Aldous Huxley.

George Huxley grew up and was educated in Leicester where his father lectured in Physics at the University, and further at Magdelen College, Oxford, where he studied classical (Greek and Latin) philology. He was appointed a Fellow of All Souls in 1955. 

In 1956 he was appointed assistant director of the British School at Athens where he made studies in Early Greek history and chronology, specialising in Greek epic poetry. He subsequently took part in archaeological excavations at Knossos, on Crete, and at Kastri on Kythera in the 1960s, during which time he was also visiting Lecturer at Harvard. Kythera remained a very strong interest which he maintained to the end of his career, his last visit taking place as late as 2022. Through his archaeological activities he came to know Davina Best on an excavation on Crete; they married in 1957. 

In 1962 he was appointed to the staff of Queen’s University, Belfast, where would remain for over 20 years. He was very active, founding the Hibernian Hellenists, a biennial lecture series which ran for decades and attracted scholars and others interested no just in Ulster but across the island and beyond. He also had a large input to the Irish Institute for Hellenic Studies at Athens, facilitating students to carry out fieldwork in Greece. 

In 1984 he chaired the organising committee of the Eighth International Congress of Classical Studies held that year in Dublin. He was also elected to its governing body, as senior vice-president, of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Etudes Classiques. From 1986-1989 he was director of the Gennadius Library at the American School of Classical Studies, one of the most significant libraries in Athens. 

When in the 1990s Queen’s University was considering closing certain parts of the arts faculty including Greek and Latin studies, Huxley was at the vanguard of those campaigning to prevent this, but the university was not moved and the closure went ahead. He also involved himself in some local political issues, including the controversial issue of housing differentials between Catholic and Protestant tenants, and the decision of some local authorities to impose certain sabbatarian views such as chaining shut children’s playing areas in their parks. Huxley considered intervening to the extent of removing the chains himself, earning the sobriquet “Hacksaw Huxley”. Much later he opposed “Brexit”; at much the same time he demonstrated his affection for Ireland by becoming one of the eldest people ever to take out citizenship. 

He had a private passion for the railways, and had the most far-reaching knowledge of railway history; he knew the railway museums very closely and constructed a model railway in his garden. He was a longstanding member of the Irish Railway Record Society and a generous benefactor of it. In fact, on his passing, other “silent” benefactions came to light, mainly but exclusively to universities. He donated his considerable portfolio of correspondence to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 

George Huxley was an honorary professor of the University of Dublin and of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth. These bodies as well as Queen’s University conferred on him honorary doctoral degrees.

 He and his wife Davina were keen travellers, not least in Central Asia, India and China. She predeceased him; he was survived by three generations of his family.



Born: 23 September 1932
Died: 30 November 2022
Richard Froggatt