Thanks to former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent for sending this remembrance of George W. Hunt, S.J. Fr. Hunt was the editor of America from 1984-1998. He died on Friday.
My friend George Hunt is dead and my heart is heavy—not for him because I know he is with the God he served so faithfully all his life—but, of course, for myself. As I wrote to one of his fellow Jesuits, I hope he will have a good seat at the best ballpark in his new surroundings and that few of the Church hierarchy are seated nearby. A man of remarkable talents and wide learning, George was essentially a priest. In the Thomist sense he gave meaning to the difference between a priestly essence and the accidental aspect of his life as scholar, teacher, editor and writer. To me, however ,he was also a wonderful and loyal friend.
I met him in the early 80’s at the annual Jesuit Mission Dinner at the Waldorf, an event I am certain each of us attended with some dread and out of duty. He had to go as a loyal Jesuit and I had been importuned by the Jesuit mission director Jack Ryan who had told both George and me he would make the evening tolerable by seating us with someone he knew each would like. Jack knew we would instantly find much common ground. And so we did. Over the years George demonstrated to me he knew more than just about anyone alive about football and baseball, jazz, the movies, modern fiction especially Cheever and Updike, the Civil War, political history, Winston Churchill, Irish history, Tammany Hall and Boss* Tweed, military history especially WW2, and the list could go on and on. I was regularly awed not so much by what he had read but by what he had remembered of what he had read. He was blessed with a simply superb mind and I think he enjoyed the use of it. He read just about all the time. I am not being hyperbolic when I claim he read at least three full books a week. Year after year. And because his range of interests was so wide he was constantly searching the used book stalls in New York for the little known editions of books he had not read. His average cost per book was around a dollar. When he found a gem he would announce his victory to me and assure me he knew I would also enjoy the book after he had finished with it. And so, regularly a package of two and often three books would arrive chez moi with a carefully hand written note from George. In it he would give me wise counsel to skip certain chapters or start one book at a certain page because the earlier section was poorly done or of little interest. Each of his selections came with a brief review and terse conclusions. He gave, as the Brits would say, “good value.” His letters always ended with--”Yours in Christ, George.”
When he served as the Editor in Chief at America he asked me to help him in various ways and to serve on a board of advisors he had been pressed by superiors to institute. I saw quickly George needed much less advice than he got from us and most of his advisors wanted to help him do what he was doing well-- run the magazine. He needed and wanted very little help. Our little board soon evaporated and George happily went on doing the job he had been assigned to do. Each week he wrote a brief essay at the front of the magazine and each of them was a carefully crafted lovely little pensee on some topic that attracted his attention. The eclectic range of those essays is the best evidence of the range of his interests. In his time America was a confident and powerful voice for Catholic intellectuals to hear. I listened to it and to George with respect and admiration.
When cancer hit, George knew it was serious. The last time we spoke he told me the pain kept him from reading as well as from sleeping. To George the inability to read was a form of death and so his demurrer when I asked if I could send him a new book I knew he would have enjoyed was his way of telling me the end was coming. Yet the news of a death of a friend almost always comes with a jolt and so it was when news came he had died. There are no words but we try anyway. There is only the Hope of the faith and the Love we shared. Pax Vobiscum old friend.
To read one of Fr. Hunt's famous short essays for the magazine, click here.
* Correction, November 10, 2014: The initial version of this column referred to Mayor Tweed instead of Boss Tweed.