Dante Thomas, 1922-2013

Dante Thomas, SUNY Geneseo Professor Emeritus of English, died at his home in Geneseo last Thursday, surrounded by family. He was 91.

Photo of Dante Thomas
Photo credit: SUNY Geneseo Archives

Those of us who arrived in the English department before the early 1990’s knew Dante as an insatiable reader and book-collector with an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s literatures and a special passion for discovering great writers ignored or forgotten by the majority of scholars.

Dante shared not only his passion for books but the books themselves, taking special delight in finding attractive editions tied to various colleagues’ interests, and simply giving them away. My own shelves include a number of volumes by Dickens, Conrad, and others that turned up at different times in my mailbox with a friendly note from Dante, or that he stopped by my office to deliver, together with an amusing or illuminating literary anecdote or two that I had never heard before.

Dante was a talented photographer, and after his retirement, with characteristic generosity, he offered to take individual portraits of the entire department. For many years these portraits lined the wall outside the main department office in Welles; they finally came down only because time hadn’t been as kind to his subjects as it had been to his art.

Soft-spoken, unassuming, gentle, and generous, Dante was a much-loved teacher and a wonderful colleague. His passing is a great loss.

There will be calling hours Friday, November 8, 2013 from 4-7 PM at the Rector-Hicks Funeral Home, 111 Main St. in Geneseo. The interment will be at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Geneseo.

If you’d like to share a memory of Dante, you can add one to his page on the Rector-Hicks website.

In lieu of flowers, Dante’s family asks that memorials be made in the form of book donations to Goodwill, 4119 Lakeville Rd. in Geneseo or Literacy Volunteers of America – Livingston County, 27 Lackawanna Ave., Mount Morris, NY 14510.

— Paul Schacht, Department Chair


3 Replies to “Dante Thomas, 1922-2013”

  1. Hi All,

    I concur with Paul, Dante loved to read and far afield I might add. As a young faculty member in the mid-1980s and early 90s I would occasionally receive physics articles clipped out of newspapers and science magazines from Dante. He would hand carry them over to our building. Sometimes he would give them to me in person other times they would appear in my physics department mailbox with a note saying I thought you might be interested in this article. The fact that he would actually walk over to hand it to me in hopes of catching my ear about a physics topic was wonderfully academic. In retrospect, his effort to include me, a young faculty member, as a colleague in this academic community was greatly appreciated then. Now, it reminds me of how thoughtful and sharing a person Dante was.

    With regrets of his passing, sincerely,
    Stephen Padalino

  2. Although I never had Dante Thomas Zaccagnini as a professor while I was an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo, his friendship and guidance showed me the way to many writers and books—especially Jean Giono, Juan Rulfo, Laura Riding, Gabriella Mistral, Blaise Cendrars, and Knut Hamsun to name a few. I was saddened to learn of his death and only wish I might have seen him again to thank him in person for his kindness and generosity of spirit.

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