January 14, 2021

Dr. George Newton Eaves
1935-2011

THE ROAD TO SOPHISTICATION

It’s strange to have nephews older than you are. When I was born, my two nephews Farrell and George were already well established in the family.  I’m sure they didn’t quite know what to make of the new baby girl up on the hill at their grandfather’s home.  Over the next decades, we grappled with questions of kinship—and I loved spending time especially with George.

It seemed we were both “misfits” and didn’t quite blend into the Eaves family.  We both loved music and books and being thought of as different.  We both played the piano—but he was much more accomplished.  Eventually he played the organ and harpsichord.  When I married, I requested that he play the organ at my wedding.  He agreed—only if I let him select all the music, which I did.  I didn’t recognize much of my wedding music but thought It was perfect.

He first thought he would be a medical doctor, but after a semester, wisely decided that wasn’t his field.  He earned a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology and had a long and successful career at the National Institutes of Health. Over the years we usually had an annual visit around Christmas when we both visited Athens.  After my divorce, he gave me helpful advice on pursuing a career in health care.

He always had a passion for antiques and the arts. Suffering burnout after his years in the DC area, he surprised everyone by retiring to Savannah.  He bought and renovated his first home  in the historic district there in 1992 and by 2006, the second home he renovated was featured in an impressive spread in The Architectural Digest. 

We reconnected in 1999 when his father died, and the following spring he invited me to come to Savannah for a visit. There were daily organ concerts at various historic churches that week which we enjoyed. He took me to his favorite antique galleries, to some of Savannah’s fine restaurants and to the beach at Tybee Island. “Do you mind if I introduce you around town as my cousin?  This aunt thing is just too hard to explain,” he said.  Cousin it was.

His home was the most elegant I’ve ever seen—with his amazing collection of Chinese porcelain, Biedermeier furniture, an oculus, a harpsichord, and a gorgeous walled garden. He said it would all be auctioned off by Christie’s Antiques after his death. 

He seemed more relaxed—and we spent many hours sharing family stories, some happy and some sad. He had stopped smoking years before, but told me not to be alarmed if I smelled smoke after I went to my room.  He allowed himself one solitary cigarette before going to bed. And he told friends if he should be hit by a bus, not to call 911—just give him that last cigarette!

During those few days, I felt that I saw his heart more clearly than ever before. Much that was always unspoken in the family.  It was a lovely visit to his world.  And then he closed the door.  It was almost as if he regretted being so open.  I’m glad I got that glimpse into the real George.

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