How sad to receive the news that Dun Gifford died suddenly of a heart attack at age 71 last weekend. How nice to learn–and no surprise– that he died just after returning from a two-week, gustatory trip to France and Australia.
I first met Dun in the mid-nineties when he invited me to join Oldways culinary trips to discover and spread the word about the traditional foods of the Mediterranean. Dun was a founder and president of Oldways, and on these fabulous trips, I was privileged to experience a couscous factory in Tunisia, a traditional mortar-and-pestle pesto preparation in Genoa, and a demonstration of the preparation of wild greens in both Crete and Apulia–to mention only a few of the many highlights. In addition, I met colleagues as excited about traditional foodways as I was. Many of these colleagues became lifelong friends.
Oldways was also way ahead of the curve in recognizing the value of whole grains in a healthy diet, and founded The Whole Grains Council.
To me, Dun always seemed larger than life. He was a tall man with an imposing presence, but I think it was his giant enthusiasm and great story-telling that made Dun especially charismatic to me. Once in a quiet moment, just the two of us, he told me about how he was only a few feet away when Robert Kennedy was shot, and how he accompanied they dying Senator and his wife Ethel in the ambulance speeding to the hospital. Another time, he choked back tears when telling me that Mary Jo Kopechne was his secretary at the time of her drowning in Chappaquiddick. Despite–or perhaps because of–having been such a close witness to tragedy, Dun seemed to have a huge capacity for enjoying life.
Dun was often referred to as a Boston Brahmin and, with his Harvard Law degree, his political affiliations, his homes in Cambridge and Nantucket (how he loved to sail), he came from a world very different from my own. But when I was with him, he always welcomed me warmly and, in so doing, made my world that much larger.
I like to think of him sailing, wherever he is. Fare thee well, Dun.