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Chaparral 2016-2017: 25.2 Leonard DeGrassi

Leonard DeGrassi (November 2016)

Scott Stalnaker, Leonard DeGrassi

In Memoriam: Leonard DeGrassi

by Jean Lecuyer

Physics, Science Center

Leonard DeGrassi was buried last September and with him the college has lost one of its genuine superstars.  Many will remember that Leonard was the first recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award, in 1987, and as the members of the initial selection committee will tell you it was not a difficult decision: he was everybody’s first choice.  He had been teaching art history and drawing at the college since 1962 and his reputation was already well established.

Leonard had gotten degrees in art and art history at USC and had spent a year at the University of Rome studying restoration of pre-renaissance art.  Later he also studied Egyptology and hieroglyphics at UCLA which made him a very popular lecturer when the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts scheduled a special exhibit on King Tut.

Throughout his career Leonard kept working as an artist and he created a number of religious paintings in churches here and in Minnesota where he had many relatives and where he maintained a summer cottage.  His work as a teacher and as an artist earned him several awards in addition to the DFA, such as being named Outstanding Educator of America in 1971 and being knighted by Italy and by Pope Paul  VI. 

At the college Leonard was recognized as an inspiring teacher who lectured without notes but with a rich repertoire of stories which he was fond of using to enliven his classes.  He was totally dedicated to his students and liked to keep in touch with them after they had left.  In fact both the priest who performed the burial service and the man who pronounced the eulogy were former students of his.

Leonard was also well known as an inveterate absent-minded professor, to the point that his division chair kept a duplicate of his keys in case he had lost them!  He also had a flair for the theatrical which he had gotten from his parents – his mother was a dancer and his dad was an amateur actor – and he was the one who designed the little ceremony that the DFA committee still uses in presenting the award each year before commencement.

Together with his family, to which he was devoted all his life, we will miss Leonard, his charm, his simplicity, his ready smile, his dedication and his genuine friendliness.  May he rest in peace!

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