Garth was born in 1939 in the then rural hamlet of Threemilestone where his parents ran the sub-post office and store. Garth followed his elder brother Brian to Truro School, attending its Treliske Preparatory School from 1947 to 1950 where Garth said:
Mr. and Mrs. Stratton formed a kind but firm team for obstreperous boys such as me.
The two school houses then were Athens and Sparta – Garth was in the latter and remembers clearly being barred from playing croquet on the front lawn because he wielded his mallet like a club. Garth carried this rather rebellious approach with him to the main school, which he attended from 1950-1955 as a day boy, Garth told us he refused to study seriously those subjects that did not appeal to him, or for exams generally. Later on Garth regretted the opportunities that he missed by such an inconsistent effort, he said:
My wildly inconsistent report results did injustice to the total picture of my learning. I especially gained an enduring love of literature from Mr. Willday, likewise of opera and classical music in general from Mr. Way, likewise of geography and history from Mr. Penna and history from I believe Mr. Simpson or Simkin. This rather idiosyncratic accumulation of learning has truly enriched my life. I then surprised everyone including myself by passing six GCE O Levels. I flourished when I reached the Lower 6th Arts and was able to select my subjects (History, Economics and Geography). I also very much enjoyed being a member of the Under 15 cricket team where my penchant for mighty swipes either brought momentary glory or embarrassing early outs.
Garth didn’t know what to do with his Sixth Form subjects and ended up being persuaded to change direction entirely and went on to a short career in Physiotherapy, studying at the West Middlesex Hospital in Isleworth (1957-1961), before working for a few months back in Cornwall at the old Royal Cornwall Infirmary.
Garth got married at Perranzabuloe Parish Church in 1963 after living for a short time in a flat in Daniel Street, Truro. He and his new wife then moved to Saskatchewan, Canada where he worked as a staff physiotherapist at the Swift Current Union Hospital in 1964.
Garth’s uncertain ways continued and upon moving to Oregon in the US in 1965 to work at the Children’s Hospital School, he decided to leave the profession as he had never really been suited to it, and entered the University of Oregon in Eugene as an “old” first year student at the age of 27. At this point, for the first time in his life Garth was studying for his own reasons and enjoyed university life immensely. However, Garth’s irregular educational pathways continued for a while longer and after obtaining a BA in Art History and Fine Arts in 1970 together with a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Garth was admitted to Harvard University to read Anthropology. Garth told us:
This subject allowed me to indulge my practical curiosity and interest in the actual behaviour of people, not just the theory that seeks to explain it. Also the subjects that I had enjoyed so much in the Lower 6th at Truro now came into their own in my studies. So, after twenty years of seeking I had finally discovered my intellectual home.
Garth went on to obtain his PHD (1977) in Anthropology from Harvard, conducting extensive fieldwork in Peru and South America. Upon graduating he remained at Harvard until 1985, being appointed to the faculty of Anthropology and becoming Assistant Director of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology. While serving in these positions Garth continued his fieldwork in Peru and extended it for several years to the Arabian Peninsula where he worked for the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education as head of a Harvard University/Peabody Museum team initiating the first cultural survey of the peninsula. This ended with the return of political tension to the region following the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt in 1981. In 1985 Garth was, as he says, lured away from Harvard by the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to become a senior faculty member and Director of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, a research institution with worldwide collections in all areas of Anthropology. Garth remained in these positions until retirement in 2007, continuing his South American fieldwork while working as professor and director.
Garth currently holds the position of Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico where he sits on the board of an educational trust that serves minority students. As has been Garth’s lifelong pattern he has also sought new challenges by participating in several organisations devoted to educational reform at pre-college level and to resolving the issues of immigration that are so prominent in US society today. To end, Garth told us that:
During my varied career I was fortunate to have five children, all now adults with their own families, and a wife, Elaine, who worked as a psychologist in various private and institutional settings until her own retirement a few years ago, while at the same time raising a successful family. We live in Albuquerque whose untamed desert recalls the wildness of West Cornwall where I still feel very much at home. We travel to UK quite regularly where I have numerous nephews and nieces and love to spend time with my brother-in -law at his farm at Treworder, Kenwyn which remains basically unchanged from my childhood unlike nearby Threemilestone where I was born and where the Victoria Arms remains one of the few old landmarks. From Treworder we like to walk into Truro, which from the time of my earliest memories in the 40’s, through my time at Truro School and the years of my travelling around the world since, remains the place which I still regard as my home town.