Monday, January 30, 2012

Dr. Robert Garrity: A Requiem

Tonight, I wish to pay tribute to one of my greatest teachers: Dr. Robert Garrity, Professor of English at Saint Joseph's College.  He passed away last Friday, January 27th.

Dr. Garrity was among the smartest men I have ever known.  He was a linguist of exceptional ability.  Ancient Greek, Latin, Old English, you name it and he could both read it and speak it.  Though I only had him for one class, Christian Impact On Western Civilization, he instilled in me a love of Medieval and Renaissance literature.  He was one professor who you could not get away with skipping the reading...or allow for a spelling or grammar error in a paper.  I can remember writing a piece on the play, The Madwoman of Chaillot, "Which you spelled 'Challiot'" he told me with no small amount of disdain.  My friends and I thought that we should adopt him as our grammatical "sergeant-at-arms" for our group listserve.  We could have used him in that capacity to be sure.

As typically occurs at times like these, my friends have been contributing their own memories and reminiscence.  Author Bernard Sell, a student of Dr. Garrity's classes in Latin, recalls trying to explain pop culture concepts to the professor.  "I loved how befuddled he got when you tried to clue him in on pop culture," Sell said on Facebook. "He'd try for a little bit, and then he'd give that wincing grin that said "Well, the ancient Greeks and Romans didn't bother with this, so why should I?"   My friend Armando once recalled Dr. Garrity speaking of the Library at Alexandria and the look of frustrated agony on the man's face as he lamented what knowledge was lost when the library met its end.  That's the kind of scholar that he was.  Me?  I remember him doing readings from the Bible at Easter Vigil mass.  He usually read from the Book of Exodus, letting loose with those vocal pipes he had honed after years of theater.  "Pharaoh's chariots and charioteers..."  Shook the whole church.  I also will remember him as a teacher who first sparked me to think about what motivated a writer and why a writer makes the choices that she/he does.  Certainly wish I could have taken his course on History of the English Language.

I know there are people who might read this who think this guy sounds lame.  We didn't think that.  We thought he was cool.  Supercool.  In our goofier moments, we imagined him hanging out with the likes of Guns N' Roses.  Academic rock star meets heavy metal rock stars.  Or serving as a tactical officer on the bridge of the Enterprise.  Oh and their linguist, too.  Bernard toyed with the notion of strapping a keg of beer to his back and showing up at Garrity's door.  "Dr. G," Bernard would say.  "Let's toke this f**ker."  Like I said, goofy.  But it is testimony to how highly we thought of him.

I have heard that the best way to keep alive someone who has passed on is to value and perpetuate what they cared about.  That's what I intend to do.  Oftentimes I've joked that my friends and I, especially Bernard, would all make good monks.  We'd live the monastic lifestyle, secluded and serving as custodians of uncared for literature, keeping it safe through these new Dark Ages until another Renaissance can come along.

Oh and one other thing.  If there is anyone out there who is still myopic enough, still jaded enough, still ignorant enough to believe that teachers can no longer have an impact on a student's life...well, this post is your answer.

Rest easy, scholar.  Your job is done.
Resquiescat in pacem.