Eugene D. Sapadin died Thursday, September 19th, at Vermont Respite House in Williston on a spectacularly lovely early autumnal day.
At 6'7" and 180 pounds, Gene was not meant to be ordinary, and his mental distinction was no less than his physical one. He accumulated vast and eclectic troves of knowledge and trivia and put them to constant use as teacher, writer, punster and curmudgeon. One of his favorite gigs was a stint as critic for the now-defunct Vermont Vanguard Press, predecessor to Seven Days, under the pseudonym "Morgan Barker" (for his favorite dog Morgan) where he aired his erudite and quirky opinions on everything, including film, theatre, music, sports, ethics, animal spirits and human nature. His mind was never still.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Middlebury College, Gene earned his masters in philosophy from Harvard and his doctorate from Claremont Graduate School, in California. His teaching career included Middlebury, La Salle University in Philadelphia, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and finally Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont, where he taught philosophy, ethics, and pop culture for 39 years before retiring in 2011 to the widespread dismay of the College. He also spent sabbatical years researching, writing and lecturing at Oxford University's Wolfson College.
It is relatively simple – many things having been relatively relative with Gene – to grasp his legacy to friends and family: he was kind, supportive, tender and generous. What he gave to the many hundreds of students lucky enough to share a classroom with him through the decades is another matter perhaps. To be sure, he brought those same qualities of sweetness to them, albeit partially disguised beneath a fog of myth and rumor, perpetual, preternatural propensity for puckish puns, and a real gift for guerrilla theater. He was also a magician, an alchemist, transforming for them the maddening abstractions of philosophy into concrete relevance, opening both their minds and hearts in the process. That legacy is incalculable.
He leaves behind two sisters, Judy Orlando and Eleanor Mason; four nephews and nieces, John Orlando, Timothy Mason, Kathy Orlando and Jennifer Mason; and his long-time companion, Nancy Johnson. There is now a very large Gene-shaped hole in their universe.
For all who knew him, we are all so much the poorer for his departure, but consolation is to be found in one of Gene’s favorite books, A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
He was 73 going on 10.
A memorial celebration of his life will be held at Johnson State College on Friday, October 25, at 2 p.m.
Arrangements are in the care of the Cremation Society of Chittenden County, a division of the Ready Family, Burlington. To send online condolences to the family please visit www.cremationsocietycc.com.