In Memoriam: Herschel Hugh Elliot

by Dwight Bradley

Dr. Herschel Hugh Elliott passed away at his Gainesville homestead on Feb. 16. He came into the world a century ago, on Feb. 6, 1920, in Connecticut farmhouse. How he arrived turned out to be a predictor of how he lived: the old fashioned way, at home, during a blizzard, without doctor or midwife. Hertha Bogenhagen, his mother, came from a family of German immigrants who homesteaded in Nebraska. Richard Travis Elliott, his father, grew up under rough circumstances on the frontier in South Dakota. But this was an era of great mobility. By the time Herschel came along, his parents were living in a parsonage in Connecticut. Spolier alert: Herschel ended up an atheist.

He earned his Bachelor’s from Yale in 1941, his Master’s from University of Virginia in 1943, and Doctorate, in Philosophy, from Yale in 1950. He taught at American University in Lebanon from 1951 to 1954, and then at UF from 1955 until his retirement in 1986. He was a staunch proponent of the application of philosophy to human affairs. Herschel was always interested big issues in ethics, environmental stewardship, overpopulation, and economics. His book “Ethics for a Finite World” is available at Amazon; his recent essay on capitalism is posted on his website at 

Pacifism ran in the Elliott family. During the last two years of World War II, Herschel served without pay in the Civilian Public Service, managing timberlands in the Florida Panhandle, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. After the war, he made six voyages to Europe as a “Seagoing Cowboy,” helping to deliver thousands of pregnant heifers to Germany. He was a minimalist: he wore second-hand clothes, drove old cars, sat in old chairs, enjoyed simple vegetarian food. And he was generous, for years providing land for a colony of homesteaders in what is now San Felasco State Park. 

He traveled extensively in New Zealand, Australia, the Fiji and Samoan Islands, Hawaii, the Galapagos, Central America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. In 1950, as the Cold War was ramping up, he and his mother bought a car in London and drove it 3,000 miles across western Europe, through the Eastern Bloc countries, across the Bosporus, and finally to Lebanon—where the car sold for a profit. During these travels he kept careful notes on vegetation, soils, farming practices, and weather patterns. 

For more than 60 years he split the year between his homestead along Newnan’s Lake on the outskirts of Gainesville, and a mid-1800’s farmhouse with no plumbing or electricity in Barnard, Vermont. In both places, he raised his own food, nurtured wildflowers (especially orchids), grafted fruit trees, and managed his woodlands. 

Herschel is survived by his sister Paula Bradley, his brother David Elliott, and many nephews, nieces, and their partners and children. He left a worldwide circle of close friends of all ages, including his immediate neighbors Barbara Dupont and Sara and Kay Eoff. We all join in mourning his passing and thank him for making the world a far better place.

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