Nearly 1,000 mourners filled every seat in Grace Cathedral on Wednesday afternoon at the Requiem Eucharist for John Edward Buchanan Jr., the 58-year-old director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco who died of cancer Dec. 30.
Cathedral dean the Very Rev. Jane Shaw, who presided over the requiem, praised Buchanan’s “enthusiasm, leadership, risk-taking and advocacy of truth and beauty.”
She called attention to the current “Masters of Venice” exhibit at the de Young Museum for its special qualities and countered critics who have decried Buchanan for being a “populist,” saying his cultivation of big shows attracted new, young audiences in large numbers.
Hundreds in the cathedral took Holy Communion during the requiem, while Adler Fellow Marina Boudart Harris sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” and later San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik played a Bach Adagio for violin. Lawrence Thain was the organist.
In just six years of directing the de Young and the Legion of Honor, Buchanan achieved record levels of attendance and membership — close to 12 million since 2006 and 122,000 families, respectively — along with helping to increase corporate sponsorship and individual giving.
Buchanan also developed popular educational programs, including Friday Nights at the de Young.
Through his extensive global contacts of private lenders, museum colleagues and foreign governments, Buchanan brought an unprecedented series of special exhibits to The City — including King Tut; Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris; haute couture shows of Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga; and a major Picasso retrospective.
Buchanan’s boss and close collaborator, Fine Arts Museums President Diane B. Wilsey, issued a statement upon his death, lamenting the loss of a “dynamic, creative leader whose vibrant energy and humor will be missed by everyone.”
“I, personally, have lost a best friend whose vast knowledge and intellectual curiosity never ceased to amaze me,” Wilsey said.
Buchanan is survived by his wife, Lucy Matthews Buchanan of San Francisco, and his uncle Louis Buchanan and aunt Edith Buchanan McCoy, both of Nashville, Tenn. Private funeral services will take place in Nashville.
At the family’s request, donations can be made in his memory to the Director’s Discretionary Fund at museums or in support of the research of Dr. Andrew Ko (research fund B2098) at the UC San Francisco Medical Center.