Albert J. Montesi 1921–2006

We have gathered here today to mourn the loss of a great friend, brother, uncle, colleague, mentor, teacher — Dr.Albert J. Montesi, Al, Alberto, Uncle Al, Doc - as he was variously known to us all. But we also temper that grief with joyous celebration of a life lived large, a life, which in a sea of humanity made not just ripples, but waves, waves which spread out across an ocean to crash tsunami-like on distant shores. Al leaves us with a treasure-trove of favorite memories, moving stories, wacky anecdotes, and even a few fables, legends, as well as urban myths. For those of us who knew him well, and perhaps, not so well, he was a singularly unique individual, quite unlike any other, and I know we shall not meet his like again.

He proudly hailed from Italy, by way of his Ellis Island -immigrant parents. And though he traveled there but for a few brief visits, he carried always in his heart and in his fiber all the very best we associate with that fabulous land: the sunny exuberance; sanguine vitality; that proverbial Italian hospitality, freely rendered; familial affection genuinely extended to all, often accompanied by a hearty abrazzo (big hug); a passionate love of all the arts. And in this Al found his vocation. In his chosen field of literature, he pursued and procured a doctorate and commenced a career as an educator arriving early on, in 1957, at the University here to ultimately attain a professorship of American and modern literature. And in this capacity Al felt what might be described as a nearly evangelical calling to bring the glories of “Literature” (with a capital L) to his students and even to the world beyond the walls of academe. He can best be described as having a nearly religious zeal in the belief that Art and Literature were mankind’s very highest achievements and that they profoundly elevated and ennobled the human condition. And he disseminated this message through his passionate style of instruction (his classes being described as not so much a “class,” but an “experience”) and his productions of “Jazz Poetry” as well as other stage presentations featuring major writers. He later staged a series of children’s productions for disadvantaged youngsters. In a kind of “democratic” spirit, if you will, he taught creative writing and he himself wrote and published. He vigorously promoted this same “vocation” in others, most especially his students whom he taught and mentored in a very personal way. I can safely say that he is very directly responsible for the launching of numerous careers in Academia and that the great wave of his influence carried generations of his students to far flung places.

Time does not permit me to speak a great deal more here. There are so many stories about Al and his truly unique personality, which we could share, and will share for years to come. But allow me to mention but just a few of the things I will miss most by his absence.

I will miss his generous spirit. Though he himself could be so personally abstemious, with his monk-like self-directed parsimony providing much grist for light-hearted ribbing, he bestowed freely his largess upon others. I must tell you that in his very last days it became necessary for me to sort and process his mail. And I could not help but be struck by the sheer number of charities and causes to which he contributed. I truly believe that Al never met a charity he didn’t like! (I believe it was St. Paul who said that Charity was the greatest of the virtues.) And I reflect back on the number of struggling students whom he helped financially and otherwise over the years. He had a special empathy for the young and their vulnerabilities.

I will miss the laughter. He had a great sense of humor accompanied at the funniest of moments with the most riotously raucous and contagious laugh you ever heard. Tears of laughter would flow from your eyes. And, of course, he himself, with his wonderfully quirky personality, was a virtual fountainhead of hilarious “Montesi” stories.

I will also miss that spitfire tongue of his and the scathingly mordant snarl, as he failed to suffer fools gladly-oh, not the simple, garden variety fools-but those but for whose unthinking complacency and convenient conventionality the world would be a slightly, or maybe even a much better place. It became his mission also to jar and jostle his youth out of “dogmatic slumber” to awaken with a clearer mind and fresher thoughts.

And I will miss the great wisdom and insight of which he was capable. He could be a wise old sage, a consigliere, a Merlin, or Socrates. And like the epheboi of the Academy, we weep at his passing.

And so dear friend, Al, Alberto, Uncle Al, Doc, we commend you to the heaven of creative souls.

JAMES BARRY

Last edited by Godsil.   Page last modified on November 10, 2006

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