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In Memoriam Colin McEwan

Posted On April 03, 2020 | 11:32 am | by danielb | Permalink

By Daniel Boomhower

Colin McEwan

On the morning of Saturday, March 28, former Director of Pre-Columbian Studies Colin McEwan died after a yearlong battle with leukemia. His wife Norma Russo was with him when he passed.

In the past year, as he faced the rigors of an aggressive treatment regimen, Colin exhibited characteristic determination, optimism, and openness to experimentation and innovation. He sustained an unwavering passion for scholarship and continued working on volumes that will appear in Dumbarton Oaks’ publication series.

Over refectory lunches and social gatherings, members of the Dumbarton Oaks community learned of Colin’s passion for hiking the highlands of his native Scotland, his childhood in New Zealand, doctoral studies and close cohort of fellow anthropology students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, archaeological work throughout the Americas, and tenure at the British Museum. Colin served as director of Pre-Columbian Studies from 2012 to 2019, supporting and mentoring a vibrant community of resident fellows, shepherding a succession of ambitious symposia and resultant volumes, and organizing discussions of future directions in scholarship at venues in Central and South America as well as in Washington, DC. He also took on a particularly complicated installment in the catalogues of the Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, focused on the objects from Central America and Colombia. In addition to the catalogue, Colin instigated a wide-ranging, innovative consideration of these objects that spawned an additional collection of essays to appear as a companion volume to the catalogue. Due to his illness, he could not attend the symposium in October 2019 that reexamined the evidence for Pacific coastal contacts from Mexico through Ecuador, but continued to collaborate with his co-organizer Chris Beekman in editing the resulting papers for publication.

A stalwart supporter of colleagues across the organization, Colin stood devotedly by former Pre-Columbian Studies Librarian Bridget Gazzo during her final illness. On the Monday morning after she passed, he gave eloquent expression to the shared grief of the PCS and library staff when they gathered to console each other. Just a few months later, we experienced a painful parallel as the news of his own diagnosis was shared with the library staff in the same space. 

Colin was a passionate, devoted, and principled colleague. He will be dearly missed. He is survived by his wife Norma, sister Margaret, and father Robin. Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a memorial must be postponed.


Daniel Boomhower is Director of the Research Library.