2016-11-03 / Obituaries

Nicholas Breier Scheetz

Nicholas Breier Scheetz, 63, of Newport, R.I., formerly of Washington, D.C., died from complications of ALS on Oct. 29, 2016 at home with his wife Diana beside him. Born in Seattle, Washington on Nov. 25, 1952, he was the son of the late Raymond and Elizabeth (Breier) Scheetz.

His generosity towards friends was as proverbial as was his always beautifully planned dinners for them at his homes, clubs and favorite restaurants across the U.S. and the Atlantic. Nicholas (known as Nick to his friends), had a gift for divining relationships, and he helped forge lasting connections between friends old and new.

“With a serious and perceptive mind, Nick was attentive to detail and to the importance of literary and humanistic traditions,” recalls Georgetown Professor John Hirsh. As Manuscripts Librarian at Georgetown University’s Joseph Mark Lauinger Memorial Library, Nicholas was personally responsible for helping the university to secure many important books and collections, including papers relative to extraordinary authors such as Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, and to diplomats and other members of the intelligentsia. Joseph E. Jeffs, University Librarian, recalled that Nicholas helped to start Georgetown’s extensive collection of Graham Greene, after Lord Oliver Walston had invited Nicholas to tea at the House of Lords, where he told Nicholas that his wife’s Greene collection was in the cellar of a bank in London.

Nicholas mounted exhibitions, seminars and conferences, which drew an international audience. “At a time when such discussions had begun to give way to literary theory in the English department itself, Nick’s work preserved memories of the authors themselves and what they had written, and informed students and scholars what they had intended and accomplished,” said Professor Hirsh.

Educated by Jesuits, Nicholas graduated from Seattle Preparatory School and from Georgetown University magna cum laude with a double major in English and History. “He was one of those engaged and thoughtful students from whom his instructors could themselves learn. There was a warmth and sense of humor to his personality that engaged others deeply,” said Professor Hirsh.

Nicholas counted among his many friends a number of poets and authors, including Seamus Heaney and Ned O’Gorman, as well as Graham Greene and his biographer Norman Sherry, Shirley Hazzard, Phyllis Levin, Annabel Davis-Goff, Larry McMurtry and Larry Collins.

One indication of his intellectual reach was his decision to learn to read, write, and speak Old Gaelic at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS). He earned a Masters degree in Celtic Studies from Catholic University.

Nicholas amassed a personal collection of 22,000 books and manuscripts, including works by Seneca (9th century), on his many trips abroad and at home. “Tracking him through an antiquarian book fair was a little like following Sherlock Holmes in search of a clue,” said his friend George Gardner Herrick.

After retiring from Georgetown, Nicholas began work to launch The Nicholas B. Scheetz Center for the Study of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Fairfield University in Connecticut as a tribute to his friend, Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., president of Fairfield. Nicholas donated 400 works of Celtic literature as the foundational collection in 2015. He has collaborated with the architect Outerbridge Horsey on a plan for the expansion of Fairfield’s DiMenna-Nyselius Library. Nick and many friends have given gifts to begin to fund the Study Center.

Nicholas often said he “saved the past for the future.” The focus of his personal collecting has been 19th and 20th century American and English literature; the libraries of distinguished individuals such as DeWitt Clinton; medieval manuscripts; as well as first editions, fine bindings, and signed, dedication, inscribed and association copies. In 1976, he bought his first Codex of the Book of Hours from Thornton’s Bookshop in Oxford,

England. He visited bookshops, dealers and collectors all over the world, and filled a three-story townhouse in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. with his treasures.

Also passionate about art and architecture, Nicholas restored the Lucas-Johnston House on Historic Hill in Newport, R.I. and installed a new garden created by Diana Balmori. On completion of this project, he received an inaugural 2007 Doris Duke Historic Preservation Award from the Newport Restoration Foundation and the City of Newport. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was built by Augustus Lucas, a French Huguenot settler, in 1713. His grandson, Augustus Johnston, an Attorney General in the Colony, lived in the house from 1737 until 1778 when he fled Rhode Island after the Revolutionary War due to his Tory sympathies.

Nicholas enjoyed membership in numerous clubs, including the Grolier Club of New York; the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston; the Metropolitan Club of Washington, D.C., and the Rainier Club of Seattle. He curated two exhibitions of his own collections at the Grolier Club: “Edward FitzGerald & The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” (2009) and “William Everson: Poet, Printer & Monk” (2013). He also loaned materials for a show entitled, “Victorian Connections: The Literary and Artistic Circles of William and Helen Allingham” (2015).

Nicholas served on the collections committee of the Preservation

Society of Newport County and was a former board member of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. He was also a member of the Clambake Club of Newport, the Spouting Rock Beach Association, and the Newport Reading Room.

He sponsored the publication of two books: Bibliotheca Scheetziana: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts from Western Europe in the Collection of Nicholas B. Scheetz edited by Scott J. Gwara, with a preface by Christopher de Hamel (2014), and the just-released Bound to the Coast of Africa: The 1817 Cruise of the Brig Hiram from the Journal of Edward Watson edited by Timothy J. Demy and Jeffrey M. Shaw, with an introduction by John Hattendorf (2016).

Nicholas is survived by his beloved and devoted wife Diana Pearson; his brothers Frederick (Carolyn), Raymond (Joan) and sister Elizabeth Scheetz von Doemming (Gerd) and their families. Nicholas was a partner with his three siblings in Breier-Scheetz Properties, LLC, a family business. The families’ ancestry traces to Germany, and its emigrant branches threaded their way through Pennsylvania and Idaho before settling in Washington as two of the state’s early pioneering families.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at St. Mary’s Church, Spring Street in Newport. Visiting hours will be held from 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 at the O’Neill-Hayes Funeral Home, 465 Spring Street, Newport.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to support The Nicholas B. Scheetz Center for the Study of Rare Books and Manuscripts. Checks should be made out to the “Scheetz Fund” and mailed to Fairfield University, 1073 Benson Road, Fairfield, CT 06824, to the attention of Wally Halas, VP, Advancement. The email address for Mr. Halas is whalas@fairfield.edu.

For more information and online condolences, please visit www.oneillhayes.com.

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