George Hart – In Fond Memory

Yesterday, I heard the very sad news that the Egyptologist George Hart had died. It’s always hard to lose a colleague but George was one of the nicest I have ever come across. I had no idea he was unwell, and I gather that he only received his diagnosis – of cancer, sadly – at the beginning of this month (Feb 2021). It’s a comfort to know that he wasn’t ill for long, but I am sure that he will be much missed by many people.

George Hart during a reception in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, The British Museum in 2011.

George had degrees in Egyptology but his contribution to the field was less to do with academic work and more with sharing his expertise with the wider public. I can hardly think of anyone who has contributed more to the subject in this way in the entire time I have been involved.

He was something of a hero of mine in fact. While I was still a student at the University of Birmingham (1996-2000) there was relatively little Egyptology online, and the few pages that existed were very usefully gathered together by the ‘Egyptology Resources on the Internet’ site. This included a short list of personal websites and George was among the very small number of Egyptologists with their own pages. Here I learned that he had a BA and MPhil – the degree I was studying for at the time – and worked at the British Museum, not in the Egyptian department however, but in Education. He was the Museum’s resident specialist in teaching Egyptology to the public, and having already had an inkling that this might where I might find my own niche, I decided his was a career path to aspire to!

Shortly after finishing that degree I got my first job, at the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), where I met George for the first time, and where I would encounter him on many occasions over the course of the next two decades. As EES librarian I came to know George’s books well and as I got to know ‘the scene’ I learnt that of all the enthusiasts I came across who had studied Egyptology – members of the EES or other groups around the country – many had been given their introduction to the subject by George, particularly those who had studied the ancient language – his hieroglyphs classes were eternally popular.

The EES staff, Trustees and Field Directors outside the Society’s offices on Doughty Mews in 2012. George is seventh from right in a light-coloured suit and blue-striped shirt.

I often attended meetings with George. He was a Trustee of the EES for many years and had been a member of the editorial board of the Society’s colour magazine Egyptian Archaeology from its inception (the first issue was published in 1990). He was editor of the book reviews section and in fact wrote most of the reviews himself for the first ten years or so of the magazine’s existence.

It was a pleasure to see George arriving at the Society’s offices on Doughty Mews. He always had a smile and was interested to know how we all were. He was generally a very friendly character, quiet, modest and apparently without any ego, but highly intelligent and sensible. He was certainly not someone who always felt he had to say something, but, equally, he wasn’t shy in speaking up when he thought he could say something useful, even if it meant going against the mood in the room. He was always positive and encouraging – now I think of it he barely had a bad word to say about anyone or anything – and a natural diplomat. I can well remember the sensitive way he handled a review of a well-known colleague’s autobiography, something none of the rest of us would write for fear of saying what we really thought!

He was principled too. I will never forget George taking a stand when he felt procedures in one particular meeting had fallen short of best practice, even though it meant going against the grain and potentially losing a few friends (although I doubt that happened in the event, George was too likeable).

In 2009 I asked him to teach hieroglyphs on weekday evenings at the Society which he did with typical enthusiasm even though by this time he surely had no need of such work. In more recent years I often bumped into him either in the airport or on the plane to Cairo, usually when we were both travelling out with groups of enthusiastic tourists. The last time I saw him was in mid-flight, when he came over to say ‘hello’ to Janet Shepherd of Ancient World Tours and me. He was charming as usual and asked about my next book which was to be Egyptologists’ Notebooks. He said he thought it was a great idea and that he was sure it would be excellent, but didn’t think the title was quite right(!).

I had asked him to read a draft of my previous book, Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt, which he did, refusing the expert reviewer’s fee, but providing umpteen useful comments and corrections, all delivered with sensitivity and all the usual (for him) encouragement. He wrote: “Of course I would be very happy to read the chapters of your forthcoming book – although I am sure that with your scholarship and talent any constructive input from me is likely to be minimal.” Of course, in the event, he provided many, extremely helpful notes. I wrote this for the acknowledgements:

“Very special thanks to George Hart who read a draft of the book when I was hurtling towards what turned out to be the final deadline, when much of it was still in a rather scruffy and unfinished state. He never complained, found gentle ways to point out all my silly mistakes, and always had something positive to say about each of the chapters as he went along. There are few people with George’s depth of knowledge, or his gift for communicating it to public audiences. This book is infinitely the better for both. Thanks George.”

He came to the launch of the book when it appeared in October 2018 and, delighted to see him but also full of nerves, I gave him a big hug. I’m glad I had the chance to do that but I’m really sorry I won’t get to see more of him. He was great.

RIP George.

15 thoughts on “George Hart – In Fond Memory

  1. Erika Trueman

    I am so very sorry that George Hart died. I have never met him, but I loved to read how influential he was in shaping the Egyptologist you have become. Thank you for sharing your memories of him with us.

  2. Jim Cleary

    That’s a very nice tribute to a lovely man. George was always friendly & helpful; I occasionally helped at his Gallery Talks in the BM, and then when I turned up as a guest on a trip down the Nile where he was the guest lecturer, he treated me as a long-lost friend. A true gentleman who will be much missed.

  3. Derek Yeo

    I only knew George for a few years from when he gave 1o/c gallery talks at the BM and his personality drew many of us to make sure we did not miss any. I think Chris portrayed perfectly him. Gentle, warm hearted, friendly, never rushing off and willing to stay nattering for a while. A sad loss.

  4. Angie Dennett

    I was so sorry to hear this. George came to give our first lecture in 2000 when we launched the Wessex Ancient Egypt Society in Bournemouth, he refused to take a fee as he was pleased to see another society. George came to visit us again and took us for a tour in the basement of the British Museum. He was a very kind, gentle man and a perfect gentleman. R.I.P. George.

  5. Hazel Gray

    A lovely description Chris – and so in tune with my memories of George. He was so welcoming when I joined the EES, and always had a smile and time to chat to you. And whenever we were stuck for who to ask about a difficult question or press query, we could always ask George for a pointer to the right expert. He will be sadly missed.

  6. Ted and Marie

    We had such wonderful times with George for many years on cruises in the Med and on the Nile. His knowledge was always shared and made every trip that bit extra. He was a true friend and loved to meet up in Oxford for lunch. We will both miss him so very much.

  7. Jeremy Ryan-Bell

    The most memorable cruise of my life up the Nile was with George as the specialist. Between each point of interest I would invariably put my hand up in the coach . “George, I have a question”
    His response was predictable as he covered his ears and pulled a face.
    But we had such fun and he loved my challenges. Sitting next to him on the flight to London was an honour and I couldn’t let him sleep!
    What a great character and what a loss to all who knew him.

  8. Rita Gallinari-Jones

    We are so sad to discover that George is no longer with us. We met him when he was our guide lecturer on a trip to Jordan in 2013. He was so knowledgeable and so kind. Just last November my husband discovered some rather old programmes presented by Sir Mortimer Wheeler and we shared them with George and our new best friend Anita who we met also on the trip to Jordan. George said,

    I am enjoying the Mortimer Wheeler programmes which Dick discovered. They bring back memories of the Mediterranean and its archaeological sites which like many people I am missing tremendously. Wheeler was instrumental in making Swan Hellenic cruises such a success. I remember the occasion when I was invited to lunch with Ken Swan – the purpose being to see if I would be suitable to be a guest lecturer- the prospect of which was more than enticing. I had only just joined the British Museum and was just beginning my career. I was determined to make a good impression beyond that of showing that I did not wash my grapes in my finger-bowl. But of course I was apprehensive about how the conversation would turn. However the news of Wheeler’s death broke the day before – consequently since Swan and he were great friends I kept asking about his time on the cruises and his excavations. The lunchtime flew by and at the end Swan – very perceptively – mentioned that we had not talked that much about me but he would assign me a cruise to see how it went. So in a strange way I am grateful to Wheeler’s timing!

    We had planned to meet up again for another of our lunches near the BM but sadly this will not to be. We shall miss him – he brought knowledge and richness to our lives. And with a twinkle in his eye.

    Rita Gallinari and Richard Jones

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