James McClendon, Editor-in-Chief
The Utica College community mourns the passing of professor emeritus of English Eugene Nassar. He was 81 years old.
Nassar was a native Utican to the bone. He was born here and lived in his East Utica home for more than 65 years.
After graduating from Kenyon College in Ohio, he earned a master’s degree from Oxford University and a doctorate from Cornell University. With his impressive resume Nassar could have gone anywhere in the world, but choose to return to the city he loved.
Nassar came to Utica College in 1964 and taught English for 36 years. In his time at Utica College he built a reputation as someone who should be admired and respected.
For Associate Professor of Spanish Juan Thomas, Nassar’s presence could be felt even years after he retired.
“When I started my career as a new faculty member at UC in 2008, Gene had already been retired a few years, but he quickly became a friend and a mentor,” Thomas said. “He was always interested in my work and not only did he give me useful advice when things were not going well but he also helped me in real ways.”
Nassar encouraged Thomas to write a book about the local Hispanic community and continued to lend his support on the project whenever Thomas needed it.
“He called me a few weeks before he passed, having enlisted the help of a former UC professor in publishing the book,” Thomas said. “He also told me where I might find an important photograph for the book. He had remembered seeing it in a Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute exhibition 40 years ago.”
Nassar was a masterful author in his own right, whose works included such titles as; “The Cantos of Ezra Pound: The Lyric Mode,” “Illustrations to Dante’s Inferno” and “A Walk Around the Block: Literary Texts and Social Contexts.”
“His publications opened big league doors for him, but he chose to have his career at small Utica College in his hometown,” said Frank Bergmann, Nassar’s friend and colleague in the English department for about 30 years. “Despite his high reputation as a scholar, he had no attitude but was unfailingly courteous and helpful.”
He was a Rhodes Scholar to the world; however, he was so much more to those who had the privilege of knowing him.
“I will remember Gene as a great scholar, but also as a kind-hearted, generous man who went out of his way to help others,” Thomas said.
Nassar’s presence was even felt by those outside of his direct sphere of influence. Provost John Johnsen immediately recognized Nassar as a role model for all of the junior faculty.
“He always treated me fairly, with respect and in a friendly way,” Johnsen said. “He and I had overlapping special interests, like the Ethnic Heritage initiative at the college, so we interacted on various committees and boards of advisors.”
The friendship stayed grew stronger even after Nassar retired from Utica College.
“So, from colleagues who respected each other, I like to think that we evolved into friends who cared about each other,” Johnsen said. “I will miss hm.”