BELFAST — When George Siscoe, the eponymous Old Professor of the well-known book shop, died at 84 April 9, a local institution went with him. Even if, as his wife hopes, the store is bought by someone who wants to keep it as a book shop, it won’t be the same.

George Siscoe Courtesy of Nancy Crooker

Wife Nancy Crooker sat down with The Republican Journal April 15, along with a couple of George’s longtime friends to talk about her husband, whose vision the store embodied. Joining in the conversation were Patty Smith, who had worked at the store for more than a decade, and Ned Lightner of community television station BEL-TV.

Nancy and George met at UCLA when he was chairman of the Atmospheric Sciences Department and she was a graduate student. Later, he gave up his tenured professorship so the couple could move across the country to take research positions at Boston University, and they bought a summer home on Islesboro.

When they retired, he was torn between buying a boat and opening a book shop, she said. The book shop won out, opening in 2008, with Nancy managing the accounts and George providing the vision. It became, in a sense, George’s contribution to his adopted community. He was intellectually curious, well-read and eager to share the world of ideas with other people. The Old Professor was his medium for doing that.

Smith recalled how George would tell people that the shop was divided into science on one side and humanities on the other. The science books, he would say, described “what is,” while those on the humanities concerned “what matters.” One of the many subjects that fascinated him was the nature of consciousness.

Though he was deeply knowledgeable and widely read, his wife and friends said he was modest and preferred not to talk about himself. He had the gift of making others feel important.

Smith came to the store in 2009 with a background in nursing. She said she tried to talk George out of hiring her because she felt she wasn’t intellectual enough. “We had a wonderful friendship,” she said. “I learned so much from him.”

George had collected books for years before opening the shop, and The Old Professor became his excuse to buy all the books he wanted, Nancy said. He also enjoyed creating themed displays in the store’s windows.

Owner George Siscoe, pictured at center, like to arrange themed window displays at his shop, The Old Professor. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

He started a series of lectures he called Shop Talks, where a wide variety of people were invited to speak, either in an upstairs room at the shop, or for larger events at the Belfast Free Library.

One such speaker was David Peloquin of Windsor, who gave several talks on symbolism in Melville’s “Moby Dick.” He said the shop was “the most lively, intellectual place to go to have a good conversation.”

He also said George considered the shop a service to the community. While he did not have everything, “what he did have was sublimely selected.”

Peloquin remembered that when the two of them would argue about ideas, George could always walk to the shop’s shelves and pull out a book that proved his point.

Smith told how she would consult George about a book recommendation for a customer and he would not only suggest a title, but could also describe exactly where in the store it was. He thought of himself as a curator, bringing in books that were foundational in many disciplines. She remembered that he described the shop as “A Harvard Square book shop in Belfast, Maine.” Customers from away would return year after year to browse the shelves and to visit, Nancy said.

The upstairs room where some of George Sisco’s Shop Talks were held. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

George also supported BEL-TV, Lightner said, allowing the station to use the upstairs room where talks were held to record “Good Morning, Belfast.” Lightner also recorded the Shop Talks, which can be seen on Vimeo.

Nancy said she plans to advertise the shop for sale, with all its stock, in the Boston area, hoping to attract a retiring academic to take it over and keep the conversations going.