Friday, March 15, 2013

A Wonderful Life

I've been publishing the "Weekly Bystander" for over a year and thought that it might be a good time to put up a post containing an interview I did a couple of years ago for a local newspaper. It is in question and answer form and will be presented in two successive posts.

Q. Let’s start with some background. Where were you born? Where did you go to secondary school? What did you like about going to school? Was there a favorite teacher? Why did you decide to go to Fordham? What was special about your undergraduate work?

A. I was born in 1939 and raised in NYC in the borough of Queens. My parents were second generation Italian Americans and we lived right next door to my paternal grandparents who were both born in Italy.

In 1953 I went to Power Memorial Academy, one of the many Catholic High Schools in NYC. It was an all boys school located in a very tough West Side neighborhood that was subsequently razed to make way for Lincoln Center. The school was run and staffed by Irish Christian Brothers although there were a few laymen on the faculty. A favorite teacher was the Brother who taught the Senior Honors Literature course. I was always an avid reader but he imparted a sense of the importance and value of the study of great literature.

I went to Fordham on a full scholarship provided by the Bulova Watch Company, my father’s employer. This competitive scholarship would have paid tuition and room and board at any college of my choice. Initially, I was going to Syracuse for Engineering but probably decided on Fordham because I was uncertain about a career path, and it was closer to home. Since Fordham’s Bronx campus was only about an hour and a half away by bus and subway, I didn’t see any need, in my naiveté, to live on campus even though the scholarship would have paid for it. There was no one to advise me since I was the first in my family to attend college, and my mother had died when I was 11. Like many other things in my life, it worked out for the best since NYC itself, with its theaters, sports, nightclubs, museums, and libraries, became my campus.

Even though I had been a top student at Power, I was not prepared for the rigors of a Jesuit education at Fordham. In 1957 Fordham was probably the best Catholic institution of higher learning in the country, and the class of ’61 was probably its best ever. Even though I was only an average student I was in a great learning environment. I say average but looking back I realize that the curriculum was broad and comprehensive including four years of Theology and Philosophy, as well as two years of Latin and French as requirements.  I majored in History, a subject which I had loved since grade school. There was nothing special about my work at Fordham. Nevertheless, even though I had only average grades, I aced the graduate record exams and was accepted in the MA program at Columbia. Finally, in my last year at Fordham I met my future wife, Linda Gardella, a nursing student at Cornell University Medical center in Manhattan.

Q. You have a PhD. What was your Master’s in? Did you have to write a Master’s thesis and what was it? Were your orals tough? And your Doctorate? That was in History. What was your thesis? Did you enjoy writing it? Might it have been what led you to teach at the college level?

A. I went to Columbia on a NY State Teaching fellowship. I guess it was then that I really began to think that I wanted to become a college professor. But just as at Fordham I found myself way over my head at Columbia, a world-class institution with an internationally renowned faculty.

I decided to specialize in 18th century British politics primarily because I was always interested in the American Revolution, and also because I had taken a wonderful course in British politics in my Senior year at Fordham with a really great professor. My Master’s thesis was on the political career of a British general and politician who was very active in the opposition to the War with America. After completing my Masters at Columbia I went back to Fordham to continue my studies in British politics under the mentorship of my old professor, Dr. Ross Hoffman.

It took almost 10 years to complete my PhD dissertation on the political career of General Henry Seymour Conway. I loved working on the dissertation but it was really hard work. During that time Linda and I married and began a partnership based on mutual love and respect that has continued to this day.

I taught in a Catholic High School for a year and then she worked as a public health nurse while I took a year off to complete my course work at Fordham. After a brief stint of government work with the FAA in NY, I got a call for an interview at the brand new Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

Q. You still enjoy teaching, why did you leave it?

I taught History for seven years at SHU from 1965 to 1972.  Linda and I bought a house in Fairfield and began a family. I was teaching as well as doing research on my dissertation and thoroughly enjoyed both.  But the Vietnam era was tumultuous for America. As the war came to an end, enrollment at the University began to decline and in 1972 the University began to retrench. I was one of the faculty up for tenure that year and none of us had our contracts renewed. In the same year that I got my PhD from Fordham, I found myself out of a job with a wife and five small children.

Nevertheless, it again turned out for the best. I got a job in the Financial Services industry and managed with Linda’s support to survive the very difficult early years. Over the years I was able to build up a very successful career as a Financial Advisor before retiring in 2008. 

to be continued...

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