In Memoriam: International Catacomb Society Director John William Pye (1948-2016)

Excerpts from the tribute of International Catacomb Society President, Alfred Wolsky, to deceased board member John William Pye (1948-2016):

"I want to offer a few words regarding John William Pye, member of the International Catacomb Society Board of Directors, who was tragically and unexpectedly taken from us in the summer of 2016.

John was one of the best friends I've ever had.  I met him at Trinity College when we were students.  He was a year ahead of me.  After he graduated in 1970, he attended what was then known as ETS, the Episcopal Theological Seminary, now the Episcopal Divinity School, where he received a Master's in Divinity (M.Div).  He was very much devoted to his faith, and was deeply involved in all the church venues he attended, whether the Old North Church in Boston, or parishes in Weymouth, Quincy, or on Cape Cod.  Originally, he was involved primarily in outreach work: in college, he ran a program called "Give a Hand to a Boy."  Thereafter, for a number of years, he ran the Quincy Boys' Home, and stewarded many of his protégées out of the perilous and apparently hopeless environments which had previously fostered them, to placements in colleges or other professional training institutions, all done with a firm but generous and caring guidance, and with unique perception and skill which can only be classified as talent, even genius.  

Ticknor and Fields payment to author Celia Thaxter (Trinity College Library Collection, gift of John W. Pye).

It was during this time relatively early in his adult career that John intensified his book collecting interest and in the fashion which was typical of what he did, built up out of a very tight budget the second largest collection of Ticknor and Fields imprints in the world.  Ticknor and Fields as the Boston publishing house which published the first American editions of Charles Dickens, as well as, inter alia, Longfellow, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott and Poe.  John's collection included royalty checks signed by Hawthorne and Poe, galley sheets from Longfellow's "Evangeline" with the author's handwritten corrections, and first editions of everything from Thoreau's Walden to Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, wherein the author insisted that the title of the book be printed in red ink!  John was also the foremost collector of Edward Arlington Robinson.  That collection had started while he was still in college.  With all these treasures in his possession, John became a major book dealer and vital presence in the annual Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, as well as a core member of such groups as the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Book Dealers Association.  

After he sold his huge Ticknor and Fields and Robinson collections to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he moved to Brockton, Massachusetts, put in a swimming pool, and, on my influence, I am proud to say, began collecting books and other materials relating to Ancient Egypt.  I think it is fair to say that he became the leading ancient Egyptian category book dealer in the world.  His customers typically included collectors as devoted as himself and major universities and museums around the world.  He handled the dispersion of James H. Breasted's own book collection (I have in my possession a xerox he sent me of the original copy of Breasted's Ph.D. thesis written in Latin), sold original watercolors done by the archaeologist Howard Carter, and trafficked in diverse Egyptiana: shabitis, other small statuary and artifacts, all the while developing a consuming scholarly interest in his subject.  John was responsible for publishing some of George Reisner's work which had spent decades untouched in the basement of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFA).  He was a main personality in the MFA's Friends of Egyptian Art and Trustee of the Watkinson Library in Hartford, Connecticut.  And John could mix effortlessly in any crowd, that is, until he became political...

From the International Catacomb Society perspective, we have lost a board member who brought with him a tremendous wealth of practical experience on diverse boards of both religious and lay outfits, of dealing with people of every background and persuasion, and, moreover, someone ready to lend his voice and strong opinions when needed during our meetings.  From my own viewpoint, I have lost a dear friend, and ask for a moment of silence in his honor and memory.  

- Alfred H. Wolsky, Esq, President, International Catacomb Society

 John William Pye obituary (link).