A Celebration of the Life and Career
of James R. McCredie
Mathy Professor of Art History Emerita, George Mason University
I would like to talk about Jim McCredie as Director of the ASCSA. When I arrived at the American School as a student in 1971, it was Jim’s 2nd or 3rd year as director. In his introductory talk, he made it abundantly clear that we were not to do drugs, not to acquire antiquities, and not to talk politics. He was director until 1977. Greece was under the rule of the Junta from 1967-1974. In November of 1973, the Athens Polytechneion protest turned bloody, and George Papadopoulos was overthrown by Dimitrios Ioannidis, chief of the Military Police. A 24-hour curfew was imposed in Athens. We watched from our windows at the School as tanks came thru the streets towards Kolonaki: too narrow; soldiers got off their tanks and lifted cars onto the sidewalk. Overnight, the drachma fell from 30 to the dollar to 100 to the dollar. There were no meals to be had in Loring Hall. And so a lot of us at the American School were fed by the McCredies: we ate in the kitchen of the director’s house; Jim cooked, and Mimsy helped.
But that’s not all: Jim had to lead American School trips, directing the bus-driver to the sites, recognizing the lay of the land once we got there, and then talking about the remains, from prehistoric to Byzantine. He had practiced the hours-long Lykaion walk with Gene Vanderpool. He had learned all the landmarks. In 1971, he led the students by himself for the first time. The bus left us all somewhere near Bassai; it would pick us up later in the day when we got up to the Sanctuary of Zeus on Mt. Lykaion. But we never got there.
As we walked, it started to snow, thick and wet. All the landmarks quickly disappeared, including Mt. Lykaion itself. And there we all were, underdressed, lost in the snow, miles from anywhere, no bus to pick us up. Eventually, a shepherd came into view, and Jim went over to him, the shepherd’s dogs barking and snapping at his legs. Mt. Lykaion was invisible, and why would the shepherd have known the path to the Sanctuary of Zeus anyway? We trudged back the way we had come, took refuge briefly in a little chapel, shivering, and eventually we made it back to the main road where we had started out. A roadworks truck happened to be stopped nearby, and the workers enthusiastically threw snowballs at us as we appeared out of the snowscape. As they drove us back to Andritsaina in the back of their truck, the snow stopped, and the wind blew against our wet clothes.
In that same autumn we all went to Samothrace, where we found that onions and goat were about all there was to eat, so we drank and drank, beer after beer, which we discovered in cases back of the kitchen. The following day Jim spent more time than seemed humanly possible telling us about the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, while all we wanted to do was to find places to sit down and recover. He was punishing us. We didn’t hold it against him. We only ever called him ‘McCredie’ among ourselves, ‘Mr. McCredie’ to his face. We respected him too much to give him an informal name in private, let alone an evil nickname. (Years later, we started to call him Jimsy, secretly, a tribute to Mimsy, who was always very friendly, outgoing, and not at all intimidating.)
The McCredies held dinner parties for American School students to meet Greek archaeologists working in our intended fields of study. We students had no idea how important that would be in our futures. At the McCredies’ I met Nicolas Yalouris, the director of the Archaeological Museum in Athens. I also met Evi Touloupa, one of the foremost scholars working on ancient bronzes, the curator of bronzes in the Akropolis Museum. Her husband came with her to that dinner party: he had just been released from prison, having been a political prisoner of the Junta. That was in 1974. Ioannides had been ousted in August, 1974; Constantine Karamanlis had come back from France as Prime Minister, and parliamentary rule was restored. The McCredies sailed gracefully through such events, attending to archaeology and to the students.
After one of those dinner parties, I asked McCredie about the lime soufflé that we’d had for dessert, and he gave me his recipe, from August 1973 Gourmet magazine. I only made it twice. It’s far too complicated for me. For instance: “Put the bowl of custard in a bowl of ice and stir it occasionally until it is completely cool and thick but not set…Fit a soufflé dish with a 6-inch band of wax paper, doubled and oiled with sweet almond oil…secure the collar with a string.” It seemed as if Jim could figure out how to do anything he set his mind to. Once he enlisted a few of the students at the American School to help him find a student who had gone somewhat crazy and was wandering around in the Gennadeion basement, which was under construction. Another time he had to get hold of 1000s of drachmae at the crack of dawn so that the local Evangelismos hospital would admit Bob Pounder for an emergency appendectory.
In June of 1972, the old excavation house in Corinth burned to the ground in the middle of the night. We all got out of the building, but we lost everything we had with us, like our clothes and our passports. First thing, Rebecca Robinson, wife of Henry Robinson, who had arrived the day before to continue work on Temple Hill, offered bras to all the women. McCredie got us all new passports. When we went to Athens right after the fire, he was in bed in a darkened room: a cat had scratched him in the eye. But he went to the American Embassy to get us our new passports. That’s the kind of director he was, and the kind of person he was.