Eugene Richard Gaddis, retired William G. DeLana Archivist of the Wadsworth Atheneum, died at his home in West Hartford on August 18, 2020. He was 72 years old. He was the son of the late Gordon Greenman Gaddis and Margaret Dixon Gaddis. He is survived by his devoted wife, Alison Lane-Reticker, his son David Middleton Gaddis of Freeport, ME, David's wife Stacy and their children Ben and Austin; and by his daughter Elizabeth Constance Gaddis of New Britain, as well as by his sister Elizabeth Margaret Gaddis and her husband Michael Aloisio of Westwood, MA. His son Jonathan Bailey Gaddis died in 2018. Gene was born in Oakland, CA , and spent his early years in Concord, enjoying long stays with his grandfather in Santa Rosa. The family moved to Newark, DE, and Gene attended Tower Hill School in Wilmington. Because his family returned to Santa Rosa every summer, he thought of California as home. By the time he got to Amherst College, many of his life-long interests were well developed-writing, acting, music and languages. At Amherst he met his best friend, and the brother of his heart, Coleman Casey. Gene majored in history, but took French courses every semester and acted in many productions in Kirby Theater. In the summers he did research at the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library in Wilmington and acted in Shakespeare plays at Longwood Gardens. He studied Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he learned to integrate music and art into history lectures. He spent the academic year 1973-74 in London doing research at the British Museum, reading old manuscripts, many in French, as he studied a very conservative MP who represented liberal East Anglian wool weavers. He analyzed poll books using punch cards to sort voters by trade and year. He also auditioned unsuccessfully for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1974 he married Alison, whom he had met at a mixer in 1966. They moved to Boston and he did secondary research at Harvard while she was a medical resident. On their return to Hartford, while completing his doctoral dissertation, he taught as an adjunct professor at Hartford College for Woman and at the Hartford branch of the University of Connecticut. His carefully prepared lectures made distant events come alive for his students. He continued historical research at the Trumbull Papers at the Connecticut State Library, under the direction of Albert Van Dusen, the State Historian. Gene honed his research skills under the watchful eyes of Wilda Van Dusen. In 1981 he spent a week at the Wadsworth Atheneum surveying their records, which turned out to be extraordinary. He returned to create the Archives. It was the perfect position for Gene, combining his interests and talents. He uncovered many fascinating aspects of the museum's history, always delighting in the latest discovery. Later he was joined by his colleague and friend from the Trumbull papers, Ann Brandwein, and together they sorted and organized and researched, and wrote. Gene became well known for his lectures, especially as he concentrated on the first professional director of the Atheneum, A. Everett Austin, Jr., familiarly known as Chick. He found that Austin had known many major figures in the art world, and that they were not only willing to be interviewed, but eager to reconnect with the Atheneum. Many became Gene's friends. Gene was invited to lecture at the Pierpont Morgan Library, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Harvard University, the Arts Club of Chicago, the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, and at Winterthur and the Newport Symposium. He shared lecture stages with Edward Warburg, Philip Johnson, John Houseman, and Virgil Thomson. He was a favorite lecturer at the Atheneum and was always happy to speak for civic groups and at local retirement communities, often meeting residents who had known Chick. In 1986 when Mrs. Austin and David and Sally Austin gave the family's Scarborough Street home to the Atheneum, Gene became its curator, eventually working to restore it and securing its recognition as a National Historic Landmark. In 2000 Alfred A. Knopf published Gene's biography of Austin, "Magician of the Modern: Chick Austin and the Transformation of the Arts in America." Gene's prose was elegant and his descriptions vivid and evocative. He wrote for a wide audience, and the book was appreciated by those with and without a background in cultural history. In 2007 the Atheneum published "Magic Facade: The Austin House" with a preface by Coleman Casey, (president of the Board of Trustees and Acting Director of the Atheneum), a reminiscence of Chick Austin by Angela Lansbury (who knew Chick because her mother, Moyna Macgill, had acted in Chick's Windham Playhouse), an essay by David Austin about growing up in the Austin House, and an account of the restoration of the Austin House interior by Krystyn Hastings-Silver, the project manager. Gene was the book's editor. The same year the Hartford Stage Company's Michael Wilson directed "Chick The Great Osram" by David Grimm, a play based on "Magician of the Modern." Gene was known for his kindness and his generosity. He enjoyed people whether they were famous or not and he loved telling stories, complete with accents. His laughter was infectious. He excelled at friendship. When a woman contacted him for help writing a children's story about the Atheneum, he helped her complete the book and then, when she was alone in a nursing home, visited her weekly, choosing books and recordings he knew she would enjoy. He was very proud of his adopted city and enjoyed reminding people of the time when Hartford was a cultural center in the Northeast. He was known by some as the museum's ambassador. And he had a life outside the Atheneum. He loved meals shared with friends, old movies, classical music, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Nana Mouskouri. He was physically active-hiking, cross country skiing, kayaking and swimming and later simply walking in Elizabeth Park. He relished his time at Mere Point, Maine, where he had fun with family and friends of all ages. He loved his home and garden and his books and music. The support of friends, neighbors, relatives, and devoted caregivers (especially Eva, Victoria, Emmanuel and his daughter Elizabeth) and the expertise of his hospice team (especially Joie and Ethan) brought him happiness. He was a dutiful son, loving husband, loyal friend and a proud father and grandfather. A memorial gathering will be held when it is safe to do so. Contributions may be made to the Elizabeth Park Conservancy, 1561 Asylum Avenue, West Hartford, CT 06105.
Published by Hartford Courant on Sep. 20, 2020.