James Poultney, professor emeritus of classics at Hopkins, naturalist

June 13, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer

James W. Poultney, a professor emeritus of classics at th Johns Hopkins University, as well as author, hiker, naturalist and member of one of Baltimore's oldest families, died Tuesday of complications from a stroke at his Roland Park Place home. He was 85.

Dr. Poultney retired in 1973 from Johns Hopkins, where he began his teaching career in 1934 by teaching Latin and Greek for three years.

He also taught at the University of Nebraska, Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., and the University of Pennsylvania before returning to Hopkins after World War II.

Colleagues knew him as a prolific contributor in the field of Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Indo-European linguistics.

He published dozens of articles and was still writing at the end of his life. His first book, "Syntax of the Genetive Case in Aristophanes," was published in 1936 and was recognized as a major contribution to the understanding of spoken Attic Greek of the classical period.

In 1959, he published his second book, "The Bronze Tables of Iguvium," which received the American Philological Association's Award of Merit for its contribution to Greek and Roman studies.

He was the author of 26 brief articles on the letters of the alphabet published in the 1962 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

About his work, The Evening Sun said in an editorial in 1962:

"The tendency in alphabets is toward compactness, as in other conveyances of meaning or manpower. One of the first deeds perpetrated by the Bolshevik revolutionaries was to liquidate half a dozen letters from the Cyrillic alphabet; would-be reformers of English kept casting (keep kasting? Ceep casting?) dark looks at certain duplicate consonants, as if Kweitly to do them in. Dr. Poultney having performed his learned labor, one feels reassured that creation will continue to be a 26-letter state for some time yet."

But it was Dr. Poultney's love of the outdoors that propelled him into civic activism in 1965. His mission then was to preserve Soldier's Delight, a 2,000-acre tract in western Baltimore County that was threatened by development.

The Soldier's Delight Natural Environment Area, 15 miles from Baltimore, is today a popular recreational destination for hikers and bird-watchers.

Dr. Poultney was born in 1908 in Chattolanee of Baltimore and moved with his family to a home in Garrison in 1917, which he occupied until 1990, when he moved to Roland Park Place.

A member of one of Baltimore's oldest families, he was a nephew of Walter de Curzon Poultney, who was called "Sir Walter" and was known as a Baltimore Beau Brummel to an older generation of Baltimoreans.

Dr. Poultney attended the Johns Hopkins University on an accelerated plan and received his master's degree in 1931 and his doctorate in 1934.

During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps as a German translator and was stationed in London from 1942 until the end of the war.

Among his many honors was the establishment of the annual Poultney Lecture in Classics and Historical Linguistics at the Johns Hopkins University. In 1992, he was honored by a special session of the 124th annual meeting of the American Philological Association. A volume of scholarly papers being prepared now will be dedicated as a tribute to him.

An active hiker until several years ago, when ill health forced him to abandon the trails, he was a member of the Mountain Club of Maryland, which conducts frequent hikes in the Middle Atlantic states, including Wednesday hikes in the metropolitan area.

He was also the editor of "Baltimore Trailways," a guide to hiking in and around Baltimore that was published by the Johns Hopkins Press in 1983.

He was also an active bird-watcher, and he spent most New Year's Days participating in an annual bird count, said his sister, Elinor Poultney Wagner.

He was a member of the American Philological Association and served as president from 1956 to 1959, the Archaeological Institute of America, American Oriental Society, Classical Association of the Atlantic States, the Linguistics Society of America, Irvine Nature Science Center, the Horticultural Association and the Johns Hopkins Faculty Club.

Services for Dr. Poultney will be conducted at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, St. Thomas Lane, Garrison.

Survivors include two sisters, Anne Poultney Taylor and Elinor Poultney Wagner, both of Naples, Fla.

The family suggested that memorial contributions be made to the Soldier's Delight Conservation Inc., 120 Nicodemus Road, Reisterstown, Md. 21136.

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