John Cochran Buck, 75, entrepreneur, bibliophile, fan of Ernest Hemingway's

October 02, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

A private service is planned at Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery tomorrow for John Cochran Buck, a bibliophile and literary researcher whose devotion to Ernest Hemingway prompted a trip to Cuba to meet the famed writer and years of searching to find an old Hemingway love.

Mr. Buck, formerly of Mount Vernon Place and retired owner of a stationery business, died Sept. 8 of diabetes in a St. Petersburg Beach, Fla., nursing home. He was 75 and had lived in Florida since 1993.

The trip to see Hemingway began with a telephone call.

"Somehow he found Hemingway's phone number and called him in Cuba," said a son, George P. Buck of Visalia, Calif. "He told him, 'I'm a book collector, teacher and a nobody from Baltimore, but I'd like to come to Havana and see you,' and he was surprised when Hemingway actually invited him."

He flew to Havana with his wife in 1954 and was met at the airport by several machine-gun carrying bodyguards in a limousine, who took them to Hemingway's residence.

Mr. Buck and his wife spent the afternoon with Hemingway and his wife and were invited for dinner.

"Over drinks, he was able to bombard him with questions about his work and life, and he autographed 10 or 12 of his books for my father," said his son. "He always said it was the greatest day of life."

Mr. Buck never saw Hemingway again but continued to correspond with the author, who signed his letters, "Affectionately Papa," until his 1961 suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.

Mr. Buck's literary curiosity next led him to seek out the whereabouts of Agnes von Kurowsky, the World War I nurse whose brief romance with the wounded Hemingway in an Italian hospital became the basis for the character of Catherine Barkley in his 1929 novel, "A Farewell to Arms."

"He looked for years and searched Red Cross records until he found her living in Florida in the late 1950s," said another son, John C. Buck Jr. of Chevy Chase.

"I remember Ernie as an unruly patient. He was barely 19, and I was 26," she told Mr. Buck, who later wrote of the visit in an unpublished monograph, "Hemingway and His Nightingale."

"He was an extreme extrovert, he talked incessantly, boasted in an unannoying way and was the life and spirit of every gathering," she told Mr. Buck.

Mr. Buck's interview was used in Carlos Baker's definitive 1969 biography, "Ernest Hemingway, A Life Story."

"We were a couple of crazy kids, but we were always proper and circumspect, and that is more than I can say for today's younger generation. Compared to them we were the souls of innocence," said von Kurowsky, who died in Florida in 1984, at 92.

Mr. Buck, a Baltimore native, was raised in Guilford and attended the Gilman School. He graduated in 1940 from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va.

His studies at Dartmouth College were interrupted by his 1943 enlistment in the Army Air Corps. He served as a navigator aboard B-24 Liberators assigned to the 15th Air Force in the European Theater. He flew 13 combat sorties and was discharged in 1945 with the rank of lieutenant.

He earned his bachelor's degree in 1946 and moved to New Orleans, where he taught school and sold automobiles. He returned to Baltimore in the 1950s and owned and operated a stationery supply business until retiring in the early 1990s.

"He was a very witty and whimsical man. A perfectly marvelous guy," said New York author Walter Lord, a boyhood friend who shared a lifelong passion for the Orioles.

His 1951 marriage to Patricia Pattison ended in divorce, as did his 1966 marriage to Judith Maloney.

He is also survived by two other sons, Ronald G. Buck and Gordon P. Buck, both of St. Petersburg, Fla.; a daughter, Cynthia B. Cardin of Duluth, Ga.; a brother, Richard B. Buck of Lutherville; a sister, Julia B. Kringel of Menlo Park, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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