Remembering Hugh J. Gourley III
Hugh Gourley III is largely credited for making the museum of art what it is today.
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Hugh J. Gourley III, Director Emeritus of the Colby College Museum of Art, passed away on July 25 at 81 years old. The College community remembers and celebrates Gourley for his remarkable contributions to the museum, including vast additions to the museum’s collection.
Born on March 12, 1931 in Providence, RI, Gourley attended and graduated from Brown University in 1953. He later when on to serve as curator at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art for seven years before coming to the Hill.
Gourley served as director of the museum from 1966 to 2002. When Gourley accepted the position, the museum consisted of two classrooms. The size of the museum collection doubled in the 36 years under Gourley’s jurisdiction and now boasts the largest exhibition capacity in Maine.
Assistant Director of Museum Operations Greg Williams, a close friend and colleague of Gourley, recalls the tremendous depth of Gourley’s character, patience and expertise. “He was just the nicest guy….There was something about him….He was very reserved, quiet and thoughtful, but easygoing, not pretentious, and he always gave anybody, it didn’t matter who it was, he gave them time. Time is the most important thing we have, really,” Williams said.
In The Colby College Museum of Art: The First Fifty Years, 1959-2009, Colby Historian Earl H. Smith also eulogized Gourley’s unique temperament. “In an art world replete with easily bruised egos and occasional political contretemps, Gourley was gentle, selfless and unflappable,” Smith wrote.
Gourley’s placidly engaging disposition reflected the overall atmosphere he contributed to the museum during his time as director. “Hugh set a tone of quality for the museum….[He was] always asking others for their opinion and considering but always making the final decision himself….He already knew inside what was the right thing to do, but he was going to let you discover it on your own. He was a philosopher without trying to be,” Williams said.
According to Williams, Gourley was a noble man with a sincerely modest desire to learn about others and to cultivate trust and loyalty, two values which were very important to him. Trust blossomed from Gourley’s artistic erudition, and Williams cites trust as one of the reasons why the museum grew so remarkably under Gourley’s jurisdiction.
“Hugh never asked for anything from anybody, ever... and it’s because of his manner and his intellect and his great eye for art that people trusted him and would give—unasked—would give things….[People] trusted Hugh’s eye, his integrity, and his ability to run a museum at a high level,” Williams said.
Gourley will be remembered for many of his enduring qualities, including his unfeigned kindness, artistic genius and intelligent sense of humor.
There will be a memorial celebration for Gourley in Lorimer Chapel, followed by a reception in the Museum, on Monday, October 22 at 1:30 p.m. All are welcome.