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Sunday, March 2, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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George Quimby, 89, gave Burke museum NW flavor

Seattle Times staff reporter

George Irving Quimby was a stickler for authenticity.

During his years as director of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington, from 1968 to 1983, he was credited for giving the museum the strong Pacific Northwest flavor it has today.

"He took out some crazy exhibits from the past and turned it into a modern museum, with exhibits with purpose and points to be made," said Robert Dunnell, former chairman of the UW's department of anthropology and a longtime friend of Mr. Quimby's. "Visitors came away learning a lot about the Pacific Northwest."

Mr. Quimby, a respected anthropologist, professor and author, died of pneumonia Feb. 17 at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle. He was 89.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Quimby developed a love for archaeology and anthropology.

As a youngster, he would search the hollows of western Michigan for Native American artifacts, often finding stone arrowheads. As a teenager, he sailed the upper Great Lakes aboard a wooden schooner. His voyages would take him to isolated communities and Indian villages.

After high school, Mr. Quimby attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a master's degree in anthropology.

One of his first projects out of college was supervising a New Deal-era Works Progress Administration job at Louisiana State University, studying materials from a site in Mississippi where Natchez Indians had lived when the French occupied the region. It was there he met and married Helen Ziehm, a student at LSU.

When the project was terminated in 1941, the two moved back to Michigan, where Mr. Quimby became director of the Muskegon County Museum. Soon after, the family moved to Chicago, where he became curator of North American archaeology at the prestigious Field Museum.

Mr. Quimby held that position and lived in Chicago for 23 years. During that time, he and his wife had four children. During summers, he would take his children on expeditions, looking for artifacts at sites around the Midwest and Canada.

In 1965, Mr. Quimby was offered a post as an anthropology professor at the UW and couldn't resist the call of the classroom. In 1968, he became director of the Burke museum.

"A lot of what George did as an administrator was establish (the museum's) role in education," Dunnell said. "A large part of his legacy was convincing people how important museums are to universities."

While with the museum, Mr. Quimby helped establish programs in Indian studies and museology. He helped the Makah Indians open a tribal-heritage museum in Neah Bay, Clallam County, and helped reconstruct a documentary of the Kwakiutl Indians that was first filmed in 1914.

Mr. Quimby also wrote many articles for anthropology journals and several books about Native Americans. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in anthropology from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and was given the Distinguished Service Award from the Society for American Archaeology.

One of his sons, Ed Quimby of Seattle, said his father's best characteristics were his open-mindedness and thirst for understanding cultural relativity.

"Without even intending to, he brought that to our household," Ed Quimby said. "It's beautiful to give someone that unbiased perspective when dealing with the world."

In addition to his son Ed, Mr. Quimby is survived by his wife of 62 years, Helen; his daughter, Sedna Quimby-Wineland, of Boulder, Colo.; sons John Quimby and Robert Quimby, both of Seattle; and five grandchildren.

A private service was held. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a contribution to the George I. Quimby Anthropology Fund at Grand Valley State University, Development Office, Allendale, MI 49401.

J.J. Jensen: 206-464-2386 or jjensen@seattletimes.com

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