George Whitman, owner and founder of Paris's Shakespeare and Company bookstore, passed away Wednesday. He was 98.
Gerry Hadden's fond remembrance to George Whitman
Leave What You Can
I profiled George Whitman for The World in 2007. At 93 he was still shuffling down the stairs from his flat in the morning to wander the store and take a coffee in a cushioned rocker on the sidewalk out front. Like his shop, he was a rarity in this day and age, a rebel not out to bring down the system through street protests or politics but through generosity. "Take what you need, give what you can" read one of the many signs hanging in his shop. George gave his whole heart to writers and readers and friends. So much so that at times people wondered if he might drive himself out of business. But his determination to run more than just a book business served him well. And it made him a hero to the tens of thousands of aspiring authors who literally took refuge in his shop over the years.
"Why lock people out when you lock the door?" he said to me, sitting in his little apartment above the store, "Why not lock people in?"
George leaves behind a lot of grateful writers and contented book lovers. And he leaves Shakespeare and Company in the hands of his wonderful daughter, Sylvia, who carries the torch with the same Whitman spirit.
Vivre Shakespeare and Company! Vivre George Whitman!