Editor’s Scratchpad

Sunday, July 8, 2001

Duckworth took the
hits with a smile

W. Donald Duckworth was director of Bishop Museum for 17 years. He came on in a blaze of publicity for the embattled institution but when he retired last week, there was little public notice.

Few museum directors are in a job that long. In Hawaii, only George Ellis at the Honolulu Academy of Arts can compare, and the academy is only just now finishing the round of improvements begun under his tenure.

Duckworth's leadership at Bishop Museum followed two paths -- making the museum more accessible and popular to the public and putting the museum's operations on a businesslike basis. These approaches earned him many friends -- and some enemies --- in the museum community.

The museum was hit hard by the '90s sluggish economy. Narrow-minded legislators viewed it as a tourist attraction rather than a repository of knowledge. The last decade at the museum was a scramble to stay afloat.

The museum's decision, under questionable circumstances, to dispense with ancient Hawaiian artifacts found in Forbes cave also earned it a measure of flak.

Duckworth took most of the hits. During his entire tenure, he was never found to be less than cheerful, intelligent and enthusiastic, and perfectly understanding that part of his job was to be the museum's lightning rod for controversy. He took much of the blame that should have been directed elsewhere, and did so willingly.

Burl Burlingame

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