When Grace Hunt passed away in January of 2003, just shy of her 100th birthday, she had already made an invaluable contribution to the Department of English - she had founded the English Reading Room. More than 50 years ago, Mrs. Hunt left her position in the UCLA President's office to organize the resources and services of the newly created English Department Library, which was established from a generous gift of Professor Frederic Thomas Blanchard's estate.
Mrs. Hunt lovingly nurtured the English Reading Room, which was then located on the third floor of Royce Hall, turning it into what her dear friend, Dr. Ralph Ranald, remembers as the "intellectual and social center of the UCLA English Department." Her afternoon servings of tea and cookies on the balcony fostered an inspirational environment where faculty and graduate student would gather for many an interesting discussion of literature, and her knowledgeable management of the collection helped turn the English Reading Room into a model of its kind. Dr. Ranald, who was an English honors student at the time, recalls how Mrs. Hunt became a trusted advisor and mentor to students within the department and a valued colleague to the faculty and staff. Though the idyllic afternoons on the balcony of Royce gave way to the more modern amenities and more spacious facility of Rolfe Hall when the department migrated north, the English Reading Room remained her home for many years, and the members of the English Department became her family.
Upon her death, we learned just how dearly she regarded our department and the library she so graciously guided for 20 years, when the UCLA Department of English received a gift as the "residuary legatee" of her estate. In death, as in life, Mrs. Hunt made yet another remarkable contribution to our department - she helped insure that the English Reading Room would continue to serve the needs of the our faculty and students. What started as a collection of 6,000 volumes is now an impressive collection of over 30,000 volumes supporting the Department's instructional and research mission, and her gift will not only enable the Reading Room to maintain this timeless collection, but it will also allow us to keep pace with the current and future research needs of our scholars. Her generosity will be felt in the department for many years to come.
On May 13, the Department of English held a ceremony to dedicate the Grace M. Hunt Memorial English Reading Room in honor of the great contributions made by Mrs. Hunt, both as founder and now as benefactor. In the inaugural lecture "The Cost of Everything in George Eliot's Middlemarch," Professor Christine Krueger of Marquette University noted how Grace Hunt was indeed "George Eliot's kind of hero." Professor Krueger praised Grace Hunt for leaving "a legacy to the living, not to aggrandize herself or control us, but to give us the freedom and tools to cultivate our imagination and read books like Middlemarch." Professor Krueger ended her lecture with the closing passage from Eliot's Middlemarch:
"the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world [. . .] is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
It is a certainty that Mrs. Hunt's legacy, the Grace M. Hunt Memorial English Reading Room, will remain a testament to the "incalculably diffusive" good spread by this remarkable yet unassuming woman who has already touched so many lives, and whose generosity will continue to benefit countless others.