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George Woodard HoustonGeorge Houston, of Chapel Hill, NC, died on January 25, 2024, at the age of 82. A kind, gentle, calm, wise, and fair man, George was a dedicated husband (married to his wife Jean for 62 years), a steady father (to sons Kerr and Mike), a whimsical grandfather (to granddaughters Cleo and Mia), and a lifelong scholar whose research was in Latin literature and Roman history: historiography, Latin epigraphy, ancient technology, and Roman libraries and book collections.

George was born in New York City on November 15, 1941, to Raymond and Ellen Houston. He grew up in Albany, NY with his parents and two older brothers, Peter and John. He graduated from The Milne School, where he met Jean, in 1959, and earned his bachelor’s degree from Haverford College in 1963. A fellow at the American Academy in Rome and a Fulbright scholar, George earned his Ph.D. in Classics from UNC-Chapel Hill with a dissertation on Roman administrative personnel. He then taught in the Classics Department from 1969 until 2005, serving variously as Undergraduate Major Advisor, Director of Graduate Studies, and Chair; he also received the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship for his excellent teaching. George directed the Classical Summer School of the American Academy in Rome from 1977-79, led tours in Italy for the Vergilian Society, and taught at the University of Bologna in the fall of 1982. He also served as the director of Carolina Summer, was a co-founder of the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, and authored “Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity” (2014) and many published articles.

But George was never merely a scholar. He was also an intrepid traveler who bussed across west Asia as a teenager, participated in archaeological digs in England and Italy, and steered a Volvo across Europe, with Jean at his side. He was a natural linguist and a lifelong fan of classical music – especially of the shifting planes of Mozart’s symphonies. George enjoyed watching soccer and baseball, though his fandom was essentially aesthetic and judicious; if you asked whom he was rooting for, he would often reply, in an even-keeled fashion, “I’d just like to see a good game.” He was wonderful with children, collaborating on magnificent sand castles and volunteering as a reading instructor at several elementary schools. And he had a silly, understated sense of humor that was especially apparent in his winsome cartoons of sweetly behaved rabbits and tenderly romantic worms.

George moved through life with a smile, and conversations with him were often punctuated by his wonderful chuckle – never derisive in any way, just full of mirth and enjoyment of where he was. He enjoyed life deeply, lived it wholly, and by and by his time came. He will be greatly missed.

A celebration of George’s life will take place at Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the UNC Classics Department online or by check mailed to

Chair or Business Officer
Department of Classics
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
212 Murphey Hall CB 3145
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3145

5 Responses to “In Memoriam — George Woodard Houston”

  1. Monica Amor

    I can see where Kerr’s amazing talents and humanity come from. My sincere condolences friend. To you and your family.

    • Mary Bushnell

      A lovely man. He will be missed by so many and live on in their memories.

  2. Jim Abbot

    I recall courses on Tacitus and epigraphy, a seminar on ancient science and technology, and then there was my dissertation committee. George was a model teacher. His preparation for a course and for each of its class meetings was always impeccable. As an instructor, he combined graciousness with rigor; from his students he expected and celebrated superior work. I cherish my memories of chatting with him in his office or over lunch, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I was deeply pleased whenever George had something kind to say about my work on a class assignment or a chapter of my dissertation. George was quite simply a wonderful human being, and I’m so glad to have known him.

  3. Jonathan Scott Perry

    Please accept my deepest condolences, Jean, and I was so very honored to work with you both! You were the ideal person to lead the Librarians at the National Humanities Center, and your and George’s shared respect for the written word and for the role of librarians in all of civilization’s advances were a tremendous inspiration for me and many others. I also remember your coming to Orlando for the Florida Film Festival in which your son had entered a film; your support must have meant the world to him, too. Please let me know whether I can do anything to help–and I now live in downtown St. Petersburg with my partner (also a filmmaker and former Executive Producer of 60 Minutes), which would make a lovely place to visit! With supportive thoughts, et S.T.T.L., Scott Perry

  4. Alain M. Gowing

    George was a tremendous teacher and mentor to me during my time at Chapel Hill (’71-’75)…and well beyond, during my own career as a professor of Classics. He taught the first Latin class I took at UNC (on Cicero’s Letters, as I recall), and right from the outset, I found him to be an exemplary, compassionate, and inspirational teacher, whose example I have consistently tried to emulate. I count myself very fortunate to have studied Classics at Chapel Hill, but in a faculty of many excellent professors and teachers, George stood out.


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