William W. Newcomb Jr., a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Texas who was the director of the school's Texas Memorial Museum for 21 years, died Monday at Hospice Austin's Christopher House. He was 88.
The cause was pneumonia, said his daughter, Mary Newcomb.
Newcomb left a lasting stamp on the memorial museum, a rich storehouse and exhibit hall for all manner of fossils, minerals, wildlife and other objects of scientific interest. He oversaw publications ranging from newsletters to coloring books, all to further interest in intellectual inquiry, beginning in an era when copies had to be run off on mimeograph machines.
"He brought an important sense of education at all levels," said Dee Ann Story , a retired director of UT's Texas Archeological Research Laboratory who worked for Newcomb as curator of anthropology. "He was able to take extremely modest resources and do a lot with them. The exhibits were enormously improved under his leadership."
Newcomb's scholarly interests focused on American Indian culture, including the Delaware Indians and the rock art of Texas. His 1961 book, "The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times," is considered a classic in the field, tracing in precise yet elegant language the evolution and extermination of aboriginal culture.
Outside work, he was a man of many interests, said his son-in-law, Jeri Putnam. He was a gardener, woodworker, fly fisherman, piano player, swimmer and bridge player. Newcomb had a wry sense of humor, Putnam said, recalling the time he gave the name Nemesis to a frog that repeatedly invaded the skimmer of his swimming pool.
Newcomb fought under Gen. George S. Patton Jr. during World War II, earning three battle stars. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan. He joined the Texas Memorial Museum as curator of anthropology in 1953 and soon rose to director.
Newcomb is survived by his wife, Dorothy; daughter, Mary, of Round Rock; son, William, of Austin; and three grandsons.
A memorial service will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the Texas Memorial Museum, 2400 Trinity St. Contributions may be made to the museum, Hospice Austin or a favorite charity.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Feb. 11 to Feb. 28, 2010