Dr. Elliott Leyton

Dr. Elliott Leyton, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, died in St. John’s on February 14, 2022 at the age of 82. He leaves a huge hole in the heart.

His courses at MUN were not required for graduate students, but I sat in on one of his War and Aggression classes. A huge lecture theatre – filled – and a mesmerizing performance by him. I could see why it was one of the most popular courses at the university.

Elliott had a huge influence on me then, and even now. Things pop into my head and I think of something he said, or wonder what he would say. Some academic, some just random.

Learning from Elliott

I found out about email from him. Elliott came into the Anthropology Department office one day while I was standing there. He told the secretary about something a police chief somewhere in the UK had just said to cover Hunting Humans by Elliott Leytonhim about crime statistics. Elliott realized I was unabashedly listening in on this conversation, so he included me. He explained he was emailing with police authorities, and… “What’s emailing?” was my contribution. That took him back a bit! He started explaining, realized I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. So he said come on, and took me to his office. There he showed me the computer screen with messages going back and forth, with the time sent on them. I was absolutely blown away.

cover Dying Hard by Elliott LeytonIt wasn’t just anthropologists and academics who knew Elliott’s work. My brother, a miner, read his book Dying Hard about fluorspar mining in Newfoundland. My husband knew of him from Hunting Humans, his book about serial killers.

Elliott and his wife Bonnie went with photographer Greg Locke to Rwanda after the massacre there in 1994. Elliott to write about the work of Médecins Sans Frontières, Bonnie to make art, and Greg to take photographs. I had dinner with Bonnie and Elliott after they returned. It was, unlike other dinners we’d had, solemn. We’d been to some of the same places, some different. We had seen some of the same gruesome sights, some different. Bonnie talked about her idea for pottery tableaux of what she’d seen. Could work, I thought, and it did. Elliott and Greg published a book, Touched by Fire.

Missing (detail), watercolour on paper, Bonnie Leyton in Bearing Witness exhibit

Elliott saw opportunity for thought and research in everything. I ignored a suggestion he threw in my direction one day. Sitting around the library in Queen’s College with several grad students, Elliott said “I think Dorothy should go to England and study the aristocracy.” Sure, Elliott, that sounds right up my alley! We all laughed, and that was it. But when I’m googling something going on with the British royals, I wonder. Maybe I should have taken the idea more seriously. So I straighten my tiara, and thank Elliott for thinking that about me.

Tap book covers for links to them on Amazon.ca. Here’s Dr. Leyton’s obituary.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. This is a lovely tribute, Dorothy. Like you, I have my memories of this great man. He came into the graduate student library at Memorial when my life looked the darkest…love life gone…totally adrift academically. He volunteered to take over being my advisor and gave me a list of suggested topics for an MA thesis where the research could be completed entirely using written sources. Alas, I was done with the whole thing by then. We got to connect once more when he came to a conference at the UWindsor years ago. I was thrilled that he remembered me. He was larger than life and will be missed by all of us who had the privilege of getting to know him, if only for a very short time.

    1. Thanks, Kim, I’d forgotten about the help he gave you then. Nice. “Larger than life” is a perfect description!

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