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Author, NIMH Epidemiologist Matthew Huxley Dies at 84

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2005; Page B06

Matthew Huxley, 84, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Mental Health and the son of author Aldous Huxley, died of cardiac shock Feb. 10 in Reading, Pa.

Mr. Huxley was an author, educator and anthropologist, and his work ranged from promoting universal health care to establishing standards of care for nursing home patients and the mentally ill to investigating the question of what is a socially sanctionable drug.

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He spent most of the 1960s at the National Institute of Mental Health. Then, in 1968, he became director of seminars at the Smithsonian Institution, creating what has become the annual "Man and Beast" symposium.

He returned to the mental health institute after a little more than a year and stayed there until his retirement in 1983, but he continued to advise and encourage his successor at the Smithsonian, Wilton S. Dillon.

Dillon, now the Smithsonian's senior scholar emeritus, said Mr. Huxley demonstrated a "keen interest in the integration of the sciences and humanities."

"Matthew was very much in the tradition of the 19th-century natural-history buff. He was very much interested in statistics . . . something of a romantic, and quite interested in qualitative analysis as well as poetry," Dillon said. "He had this marvelous gift of eloquent speech. . . . He was a bit too exuberant for some people's taste; he was not at all shy about challenging people. He retained the British style of argument -- you show your concern, respect and interest in somebody by having a good debate."

His family background undoubtedly influenced his willingness to engage in such intellectual jousting. He was the only child of novelist, essayist and humanist Aldous Huxley, and the great-grandson of Thomas Huxley, the famous proponent of Charles Darwin. His two uncles were Sir Julian Huxley, a noted evolutionary biologist, and Sir Andrew Huxley, a Nobel Laureate in medicine.

Mr. Huxley was born in London and came to the United States in 1937. He attended high school in Colorado before graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, and receiving a master's degree in public health from Harvard University.

He worked for the Milbank Memorial Fund, a New York-based foundation, until 1963, when he moved to Washington.

Mr. Huxley and his second wife, Judith Huxley, an author and freelance writer who wrote a food column for The Washington Post, formed the hub of an intellectual dining club in their Chevy Chase home, which former Post food editor William Rice called a salon.

"Washington's brightest lights -- in literature, the arts, diplomacy, medicine and even the stray politician -- were . . . regulars at the dinner table over which the Huxleys preside with intelligence, gusto and rare good humor. To use another word currently out of fashion, they are a truly civilized couple," Rice wrote.

Mr. Huxley never lost his British accent, despite living in the United States since age 17. He joked that his British passport photograph made him look "like a slightly shabby individual from England. My first American photo turned me into a confidence man of the Melvyn Douglas type. It's amusing that the camera not only lies, but in its own cultural context."

At the Smithsonian, he led the way in using film to study vanishing ways of life, and served on committees that led to the founding of the National Anthropological Film Center, now the Smithsonian Human Studies Film Archive, Dillon said. Mr. Huxley also worked with the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead.

His book "Farewell to Eden" (1965) was written after spending three months in a "passionate mutual exchange of watching" the impact of modern culture on the Stone Age Amahuaca Indians of Peru. "I was trying to tell what their daily lives were like, and they were as uninhibited about me," he said.

Far from being an advocate of technology, he was concerned about the incursions of privacy by new technology, his wife said. He enjoyed martinis, gimlets, wine and carving roasts and meats. He was a past board member of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

His first marriage, to documentary filmmaker Ellen Hovde, ended in divorce. His second wife died in 1983. Survivors include his third wife, Franziska Reed Huxley of Washington and Morgantown, Pa.; two children from his first marriage, Trevenen Huxley and Tessa Huxley, both of New York City; and two grandchildren.

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