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By Delinda Stephens Buie
Delinda was George's closest colleague at the University of Louisville for decades,
and they maintained their relationship after George retired.

A photo of George and Delinda was taken at the ceremony and exhibition on 28 August 2008
honoring George and his gift of an endowment for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection.

George T. McWhorter made quite an impression when he arrived in Louisville in 1972. The University of Louisville had maintained a rare book collection for years, but George was the university’s first professionally trained rare books librarian. He brought impressive credentials from the University of Michigan; he also brought his collection of British illustrator Arthur Rackham. George was young and active, riding a bicycle to work long before anyone else in Louisville ever thought of doing so. He also was brilliant, witty, fluent in several languages, passionate about his work, and immediately influential among literary and bookish people in Louisville.

Louisville discovered more facets of our new Curator of Rare Books. Trained as an opera and concert singer, George had begun his career as a boy treble in the choir of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  Later, as a baritone, George earned degrees in voice from Florida Southern College and the Eastman School of Music before studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Pierre Bernac. He performed lead roles with the New York City Center Opera Company and commanded the stage as Master of Ceremonies with Radio City Music Hall. He sang with the New York Pro Musica and the American Shakespeare Festival, and toured with national productions. At the height of his career, George suffered partial paralysis of the vocal cords, a temporary tragedy that prompted his study of librarianship. Once in Louisville, however, his voice recovered and he sang as a principal with the Kentucky Opera Association, at recitals -- many as benefits for the University and its library -- and as soloist for the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

It was a privilege to meet George McWhorter soon after he came to Louisville, now nearly fifty years ago. First as mentor, teacher, and champion, later as colleague and friend, George ever has been a source of delight in my life. George also has been a major donor to University of Louisville. Since his first gift of the aforementioned Arthur Rackham Collection in 1974, he has regularly diverted a substantial portion of his salary to enhance the university’s rare book collection, and to create other significant collections: Danish author Isak Dinesen, Victorian boys’ author G.A. Henty, and turn of the last century fine press publisher Thomas Bird Mosher.

George’s most celebrated collection is the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection, which he developed as a tribute to his mother Nell Dismukes McWhorter, who taught him to read when he was just five years old. “She tried everything,” George recalls, “Dickens, Dumas . . . but when she got to Burroughs, I was hooked!” The largest institutional collection of Burroughs in the world, this vast and comprehensive collection of rare editions, toys, posters, games, photographs and film has attracted scholars and fans -- and sometimes, their collections –-to the University of Louisville for more than thirty years.

In 1986 George was named Curator of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection, a fitting title for a man who has furthered scholarship, preserved unique treasures, and brought worldwide attention to Burroughs. Looking toward the future, George has established an endowment to provide continuous support for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection. In 2008, he designated a bequest for an endowed chair and curatorship. He also has been working with Burroughs Bibliophiles on their own gifts and bequests.

School children and freshmen students, international scholars and documentary film makers, fans and friends of Edgar Rice Burroughs, all treasure memories of their trips “into the jungle,” with George leading tours of the permanent exhibits in the  Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection. I share those highlight memories, too, but also recall George hauling in synthetic grass to create a jungle floor, painstakingly arranging each artifact and vacuuming the area to ready it for visitors, working -- fueled only by coffee -- for days and nights on indexes, and painting the teeth of a model dinosaur to make a more accurate representation.

The Burroughs Collection is comprehensive in scope and significance, a source of pride and inspiration, but Curator George McWhorter, with his affection for each of the hundreds of thousands of objects, and bone deep knowledge of every detail, made it magical.

Reprinted from The Burroughs Bulletin #85


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