Milton-L Tributes to Al Labriola

March 12, 2009

[Many thanks to Nancy Charlton for sending these on. – KC]

Professor. Albert Labriola of Duquesne University was one of the foremost Milton scholars in the world. His passing on March 11, 2009 is mourned by all his colleagues. Many have written to the Milton-L discussion list, and several have expressed a desire to compile these tributes for the benefit of his family and friends. This is such a compilation.

I have started with the Digests beginning Wednesday morning, March 11, and used the Digests through Thursday morning, and will add individual messages as they come in. I have trimmed boilerplate and repeated messages, except where clarification is needed and where an earlier message has been quoted. I have removed addresses in email signatures, leaving only name and affiliation, sometimes shortened so pages come out even.
–Nancy Charlton

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 16:22:30 -0700
From: Aleta Konkol


I just received word that Miltonist Dr. Albert Labriola from Duquesne University passed away today unexpectedly.  Although I have not been able to contact the university to confirm that this is true, I received this information from a  friend, a very reliable source who was supposed to defend her dissertation at Duquesne next week with Dr. Labriola.

I have to say that I am almost at a complete loss for words.  Dr. Labriola had a way of bringing Milton into the lives of his students so that I wanted to learn more, so that I wanted to live and breathe and research Milton and Paradise Lost.  I wish I could effectively communicate how much this man impacted so many in regards to Milton and just life in general.  I would love to read any thoughts those on the list would care to share.  My home e-mail address is lostatom[…]. I am writing from the high school where I teach, and unfortunately, I am so saddened that I am not thinking with the clarity that I should at this time.  However, I do want the Milton List  to know.


Aleta Konkol

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 22:03:29 -0500
From: Steve Fallon

How unspeakably sad if true!

Steve Fallon
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 22:24:54 -0400
From: leejacobus

Al Labriola was a wonderful man, fine Miltonist, and good friend.? It’s terrible to think of him gone.? Lee Jacobus

Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 22:35:27 -0400
From: “Harold Skulsky”

This is very grim news, and I have yet to come to terms with it. I am at the stage of hoping that it isn’t true. Albert Labriola was a scholar’s scholar – precise, learned, searching, utterly civilized, and full of intellectual integrity. Not the least of his virtues was his generosity to his fellow scholars; I will never forget his encouragement to me in my work, and I am quite sure I am far from alone. I hope a suitable memorial tribute can be organized.

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 08:33:34 -0400
From: Angelica Duran

Dear folks,

I have a call in to the Duquesne University English Department. So no need
to flood them with calls. I thought it was prudent NOT to call Al Labriola’s
home number. I will advise the list as soon as I hear from them. Oh, my.


Angelica Duran
Associate Professor
English and Comparative Literature
Purdue University

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 07:47:02 -0500 (CDT)
From: Carol Barton

I am speechless at this so heart-wrenching news. Heaven has indeed called home another of its own. “Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” good soul. Al was one of the kindest and most decent human beings whom it has ever been my pleasure to know, and my heart goes out to Regina and his family.

Carol Barton

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 08:51:21 -0400
From: lostatom

The Red Masquers, the Duquesne Theatre group, included an official statement by Duquesne last night in their blog.? As?much as I had hoped that it was not true, I am afraid it is.

Aleta Konkol

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 08:53:32 -0400
From: Angelica Duran

Dear all,

I received a call and the English Department at Duquesne just now which
confirmed that Al Labriola has died.  You can keep updated on information by
looking at the Duquesne University newspaper, The Duke, available at
<>. Today¹s edition features a story on Al
Labriola on its front page today.   I am also on a phone call tree and will
update the list as I hear news.

In great sadness…


Angelica Duran
Associate Professor
English and Comparative Literature
Purdue University

From: Carol Barton

I am speechless at this so heart-wrenching news. Heaven has indeed called
home another of its own. “Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” good
soul. Al was one of the kindest and most decent human beings whom it has
ever been my pleasure to know, and my heart goes out to Regina and his
family.Carol Barton

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 08:12:24 -0500
From: “Campbell, W. Gardner”

This is devastating news and a terrible loss.

I met Al in 1989 in Washington, D.C., at my first Milton Society
banquet. I knew almost no one there. I’d barely started a dissertation.
Al came over to me, shook my hand warmly, introduced himself, and said
“you are most welcome here.” I was deeply moved by his generosity of
spirit and by his evident sincerity. As I learned over the years of his
remarkable erudition, his truly tireless labors on behalf of Milton
studies and the Milton Society of America, and his accomplishments as a
scholar and teacher, I cherished that memory and added many more to it.

There were many, many instances of Al’s brilliance and humanity over the
time I knew him, far too many to enumerate here. Al Labriola is a great
example of what is best in this often fraught profession.

I find this morning that I cannot imagine Milton studies and the Milton
Society without Al there to guide us. I had so much more that I needed
to learn from him.

My condolences to Al’s family, and to us all.

Gardner Campbell

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 09:17:30 -0400
From: James Rovira
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Dr. Albert Labriola

He encouraged me too, and I am grateful to have met him, even if only once.

You will be missed, Prof. Labriola.  Fare thee well.

Jim R

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 08:20:16 -0500
From: “Campbell, W. Gardner”

Do you have a URL for that blog?



Refers to this message:
The Red Masquers, the Duquesne Theatre group, included an official
statement by Duquesne last night in their blog.  As much as I had hoped
that it was not true, I am afraid it is.

Aleta Konkol

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 09:35:43 -0400
From: Ross Leasure

Dear comrades,

Like so many of us, I enjoyed the distinct honor and pleasure of
making Al’s acquaintance over the years, and I am understandably
shocked and deeply saddened by his passing.  I will always remember
him for his extraordinary gentility, his precisely measured diction,
his warmth and humility, and of course his extraordinary contribution
to the field.  I share with all of you a profound sense of grief at
this moment.  Our ranks have taken a devastating blow to be sure.

“At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.”


T. Ross Leasure
Dept. of English
Salisbury University
Salisbury MD 21801

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 09:09:45 -0500
From: “Skerpan-Wheeler, Elizabeth P”

What a loss!  Ever since I met him at my first Milton Society dinner (in 1979), I’ve been honored to know Al.  He was welcoming and kind to everyone, including my former husband, a soldier with no academic background.  Through their conversations I learned of Al’s service in Vietnam, about which he was modest.  I’ll miss him.

Elizabeth Skerpan-Wheeler

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 09:11:37 -0500
From: Jameela Lares

Thanks very much, Angelica.  I have been hoping it wasn’t true since last night.  I had been in contact with Al on Milton Society even while he was on vacation in Florida.  In fact, the last e-mail I got from him was yesterday at 5:20 AM, apparently just hours before he died.  He was faithful to the last.

Al was one of the great influences for good in my academic life.  I would much prefer to go on telling him so myself for a while longer, though I imagine that could I speak with him now, he would listen patiently, thank me sincerely and–as ever–ponderously for my good wishes, and then with one of his smiles advise me to read the penultimate verse paragraph of Lycidas, after–of course–having had due time to grieve.

i think my favorite praise of Al was what his encomiast, Michael Lieb, said on the occasion of Al becoming honored scholar of the Milton Society of America:  “He was the man behind the man behind the man.”

Jameela Lares
Professor of English
The University of Southern Mississippi

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 10:16:50 -0400
From: Kemmer Anderson

To the community of secondary school teachers who experienced his
seminar and even the ones applying this year, Al reached out to so
many with his elan. I remember meeting him at the Renaissance
Conference in Dearborn in 1986. Enthusiasm and Encouragement. I hope
I will mentor and encourager what a model…Thanks Al for letting me
deliver my Milton paper at the Congress. What a great host — A
Raphael repast on the ridge; an epic scholar-hero of thumos..  Kemmer
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 10:32:49 -0400 (EDT)
From: gilliaca

It’s clear from what I’ve been reading that my life is poorer for not having known Dr. Labriola. I hope someone compiles these moving tributes and passes them along to his family.
Cynthia A. Gilliatt
English Department, JMU, ret.

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 11:22:22 -0400
From: “Creamer, Kevin”

The Duquesne Duke story, “He put the ‘human’ in humanities” can be found here:


Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 12:15:45 -0400


Like others who have posted responses, I am devastated by this news.  My professional life, as a Donne scholar, wanna-be Miltonist, and, more recently, department chair, was touched at every point by Al’s leadership  and humanity in the Donne Society, Milton Society of America, and ADE.  I will miss him dearly.

Ron Corthell

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 11:21:35 -0500
From: Richard Durocher

Dear Angelica and other colleagues and friends,

I have just heard the news of Al’s death and feel his loss deeply, as
many of us do.  I am grateful to Al for more than I can say, but his
irreplaceable combination of kindness, intelligence, and good humor will, I
hope, remain with me and with many as a cherished model.

Angelica and Jameela:  If you hear of funeral arrangements, will you
please send word to the list?  Some of us will do our best to be there, I
imagine, from Minnesota and beyond.

Rich DuRocher

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 12:55:54 -0400
From: “Jeffrey Theis”

I know that others on this list had more extensive personal and
professional relationships with Al than I did. That being said, Al
really has greatly shaped my career. To echo other posts, Al combined
his impeccable research and editing skills with a genuine love of people
and our profession.

He published my first scholarly article in MS. The article certainly
was rough around the edges, and he gently and professionally guided my
revisions in a way that welcomed me into the profession. My book is
coming out with Duquesne UP, and I greatly appreciated the excellent,
sensitive reading Al gave my manuscript.

I’ll miss him, and I extend my sympathies to his family and

Jeff Theis
Jeffrey S. Theis
Assistant Professor; Department of English
Salem State College,  Salem, MA 01970-5353

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 12:32:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: richard strier

Al was a monument to generosity.  And golden-tongued.  I share the hope that a
suitable tribute can be devised.  Perhaps a prize of some sort (best Milton diss, or

Very sadly,

Richard Strier
Department of English
University of Chicago

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 12:41:37 -0500
From: “Parrish, Paul”

I agree with the many tributes that have been offered to Al.  He was a
rare combination of a gifted scholar and a warm and caring human being,
an elegant and self-assured colleague who took his work seriously
without taking himself too seriously.  He will be missed.

Paul Parrish
Department of English, Texas A&M University
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 18:55:56 +0100

From: Asbj?rn Bjornes
Subject: [Milton-L] SV: Milton-L Digest, Vol 28, Issue 6

I miss Dr. Labriola so much. I am out of words right now.

Asbjorn Bjornes, Norway

Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 14:13:25 -0400
From: “Julia Richman”

Dear All,

>From across the distance miles. and  like many others who have posted
“glorious praises”  to  honour  Professor Labriola  –

I, as well,  would like to share my condolences to  Professor Lariola’s
family, friends and devoted colleagues.

Even though I never had the honour of meeting Professor Labriola  –  I am
profoundly aware of his renowned accomplishments as a

M. Scholar and as a Teacher.

Also, wishing someone would so beautifully compile the treasured and
profound  tributes to  Dr. Labriola ..  so  they can be passed along to his

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”   – John Keats

-Ms. Julianne Richman
Merlin Simex Professional/Spirituality Counseling Srvs.
Hamlet of Pt. Clark
Ontario (Canada)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

He was my roommate in a TA office at the University of Virginia, we both studied under the rigorous eye of Fredson Bowers, and he was one of the most active editors and scholars I have known, remaining in office as dean but not letting up on any other of his duties.  When he assumed the editorship of Milton Studies, I believe that three of Bowers’s students were editing major scholarly journals on Renaissance poets (Barbara Mowat was editing the Shakespeare Quarterly).

Al was always a great organizer of Milton Society dinners–the publisher of the annual booklet, our genial host, and one of the funniest people on his feet that I have ever seen or heard.  He was always quietly behind the scenes, patient and humble in his citizenship.  He also helped organize the very first International Milton Symposium, and he held many large and small conferences at Duquesne (it was nice to hear Annabel Patterson and William B. Hunter skirmishing about whether Milton was Anglican, at one of the Eastern Milton Symposia).

I loved Al dearly, and I am glad he died in harness, with all his faculties around him, at the height of his successes.  We will do the honors for him on the list, in our encomia.

Roy Flannagan

“Horace Jeffery Hodges”

As a relative newcomer to Milton studies and off in the hinterlands, I also did not know Dr. Labriola, but from the many tributes on this morning’s listserve, I can see that he was not only a great scholar but also well loved in the Milton community of scholars. I am sorry to hear of his passing and offer my condolences to his family and his many friends.

Jeffery Hodges

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When I began memorizing Paradise Lost and was sure that I would persevere and do it all, I began to search for connections in the world of people involved with John Milton.  Al Labriola, as secretary to the Milton Society, was actually the first name I came upon and I at once contacted him.  Lucky me.  Over the past 15 years he responded promptly, warmly and supportively to each of my requests, asking nothing in return.  He treated me, an outsider, as if I were a peer. That I was serious about Paradise Lost was qualification enough.  I can only imagine the sense of loss you who were his peers, fellow professionals and personal friends feel.  As the first person to really say to me, “Yes, what you are doing has value,” I will dedicate my future endeavors to his memory.  Thank you, Al.   John Basinger

Thursday, March 12, 2009
“Stephen Fallon”

Among the many tasks that Al Labriola shouldered in and for the Milton Society was that of unofficial eulogist.  At MSA dinners he would speak eloquently of one or another of our number whose journey’s end was come. He knew himself to sing.  I am sure that many old friends will strive for the honor of sending Al off at the 2009 dinner, and I can imagine more than one stepping to the podium.  If only one can speak, I’m sure that many of us would like to hear from Michael Lieb.

My first encounter with Al, at an MSA dinner in the early 80s, resembled that of others who have commented today.  Here was a “name,” an accomplished and established Miltonist, who exerted himself to make a green, unpublished graduate student feel at home.  One could not help but sense both his gravity and his kindness.  It took a bit longer, for me at least, to realize that his pose of unusual formality contained a healthy dollop of self-deprecating humor.  Al, who could be the most dryly funny of Miltonists, was capable of sending himself up.  I’ll never forget his suggestion that we telephone each other (“we must establish telephonic communication”).  We did not merely both work at Catholic universities, we were “both employed by Catholic institutions of higher learning.”  His humor was always good-humored, and I don’t recall him being less than generous to others.

He was a scholar and a gentleman.

Steve Fallon

Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:37 PM
“Jeffrey Shoulson”

I share the deep sense of loss that many have already expressed. And, like many, my memories of Al date back to my first Milton Society dinner when I rather timidly attended as a grad student.  Al greeted me with a warm smile and in his impeccably precise enunciations made sure he got the pronunciation of my last name right before taking me around to introduce me.

Al published my first piece on Milton in Milton Studies and served as one of the readers of my first book manuscript.  It’s hard to imagine attending a Milton event–a panel at MLA, the Milton Society dinner, the International Milton Conference, or the biennial conference in Murfreesboro
–without the warm, collegial, dapper presence of Al Labriola.

I agree with Steve Fallon.  Never was there a man for whom the phrase “scholar and gentleman” was more appropriate.

Jeffrey Shoulson
Jeffrey S. Shoulson, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of English and Judaic Studies, University of Miami
Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:45 PM

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, Professor Labriola was invited to give a lecture on campus.  It was the first academic presentation I ever attended, and I remember his graciousness (and even his topic!) to this day.  More recently, he was the editor of my contribution to the Donne Variorum, and I could not have asked for anyone more helpful, more patient, and more generous.  Most recently, a colleague and I asked him to contribute the major “capstone” chapter for a handbook on seventeenth-century literature we are just about to send to press.  Despite his illness, his duties as dean, and his many other responsibilities, he submitted his essay well before the deadline, and it was, quite simply, flawless.  His loss is an enormously sad occasion, but his legacy is permanent.  I hope his family can take some comfort in knowing how positively he affected so many lives.

Bob Evans


7 Responses to “Milton-L Tributes to Al Labriola”

  1. dick wissolik on March 13th, 2009 11:07 am

    Al and I shared four generations of students and teachers at Duquesne and Saint Vincent College — Foster, Jack, Denny, Bernie, Jerry, Skip, Tony… the list is long.. Al was a friend and colleague. I will miss him.

    The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
    Ther nis namor to saye!

    Ave atque vale, Al.

  2. David Loewenstein on March 13th, 2009 3:52 pm

    Dear Colleagues and Friends,

    I am as stunned as you to learn about Al Labriola’s death. What a marvellous person he was–warm, witty, wry, and wise. He was an outstanding scholar and editor. He embodied the very best of the Milton Society of America.

    I like Richard Strier’s suggestion and would like to make it more specific. Since Al Labriola was so generous to so many of us in our salad days (and beyond), how about something like the following presented by the Milton Society of America:

    The Albert C. Labriola Award for an outstanding article by an assistant professor or graduate student.

    Of course submissions would need to be accompanied by a short letter identifying the author’s professional position. If you have other suggestions or would like me to pursue this one, let me know. This is my last year as chair of the MSA awards committee and I’d be happy to try to move forward with this. If you have any suggestions about this idea or another for an award in AL’s honor, send an email to my UW-Madison address and I’ll pursue the matter after March 20th when I return from break.

    David Loewenstein

  3. Thomas Kranidas on March 14th, 2009 1:48 pm

    I’m deeply saddened by the death of one of the kindest, most humane scholars in the profession.

    Tom Kranidas

  4. Sharon Achinstein on March 15th, 2009 9:48 am

    Dear Friends,
    I was also saddened to hear of the news and wanted all stateside to know that Thomas Corns led a moment of commemorative silence at the British Milton Seminar this weekend in Birmingham.

    I will always appreciate that Al gave me my ‘break’ as a Milton scholar, when he invited me to be a speaker at the East Coast Milton Seminar at Duquesne in 1994, where he was a gracious host and mentor. Over the years he has shown many kindnesses, and in his invisible way, has given us all so much. I like the idea of a ‘best graduate student’ article for an award.

  5. Hugh Wilson on May 18th, 2009 11:12 pm

    This is sad news. Al was deeply learned but unpretentious; he was one of those insiders who made a putative ouitsider feel welcome. He was a bright-eyed host with a genial smile and a character of tempered steel. He was an elder statesman for the Milton Society; he was an utterly decent man who touched many of us—an academic with the sensibility of a poet and a dry-eyed wit. He shall not be forgotten; we will not forget him; he will leave a emptiness. Who will pick up the loose ends?

    It isn’t much, but why don’t we gather a fund and name a scholarly award after him? And why not dedicate the next collection of Milton essays in his honor?

    I think we’ve lost more than we know. It will take time for this to sink in.

    Hugh Wilson

  6. Mike Crivello on May 20th, 2009 10:51 pm

    I was very saddened to hear the news of the passing of this great man and outstanding teacher. Although I studied under Dr. Labriola only for a short summer in an NEH seminar for high school teachers at Duquesne, I will never forget his kindness, erudition, and love for teaching.
    One brief illustration of his amazing perception and generosity: when I asked him to suggest a restaurant to take my wife for our anniversary, Dr. Labriola suggested one, and although I never committed to going there, when I did go to the restaurant the waiter immediately brought my wife and I an hors d’ouevre, courtesy of Al Labriola. How he knew I would go there, how he thought to describe me to the restaurant, and how he smiled knowingly when I thanked him the next day are memories my wife and I will cherish.

  7. Paula Jenkins-Whiteside on August 23rd, 2010 2:10 am

    I had Dr. Labriola for Honors English at Duquesne in 1980 as a frosh, then Milton Studies and Shakespeare on Film. When I was going through a rough spot and needed to return home for a semester, he called the admissions department at Trinity College in DC and got me a spot there over Christmas break. I’ve kept all the papers of mine he’d mark up, especially one discussing a libidinous roommate of mine whom he’d had as a student the previous semester and wondered at her fatigue during class. I still have a fondness for men in bow ties. Dr. Labriola, you will be especially missed.