Art History Emeritus Professor Leonard R. DeGrassi passed away Sept. 2 at the age of 88. He had suffered from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
DeGrassi was born March 2, 1928 in East Orange, N.J., and in 1937 his family moved to California. He earned a full scholarship to USC and attained a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in 1951 and a master’s of arts in 1956. After his time at USC he studied at Harvard, the University of Rome and UCLA.
In 1961 he married Dolores Marie Welgoss, who predeceased him, and had a son and daughter, Paul and Maria.
DeGrassi joined the art history department in September of 1954 and retired in 1992. In 1987 he earned the Distinguished Faculty Award, the first such award given to a staff member. Recipients of the award must be an outstanding contributor to the faculty and must perform at a high standard in their area of expertise.
“He was one of our best — witty, erudite and impeccably dressed,” said English Professor Dennis Doyle, a lifelong friend. “Leonard [DeGrassi] was the type of teacher we all wished we could become.”
DeGrassi was praised by everyone who knew him: family, friends and students. Family and friends have mentioned his unforgettable passion for teaching, faith in the Catholic church and his love for art.
“When I first began here 10 years ago I had no idea what I was doing,” Richard Coleman, art history professor said. “It was Leonard who took me under his wing, often showed me the ropes or, at minimum, made me feel better for not knowing the ropes.”
His love for teaching never stopped, and even after his retirement in 1992, he continued to teach as a professor emeritus until 2015. DeGrassi was a man of faith and became a Knight Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, Knight of St. John of Jerusalem and a Cross Holy Sepulcher.
“I’ve known Leonard since I was a kid. My dad taught here in the ’50s and he was a big presence in my family life,” Doyle said. “When I began in the ’80s, he was one of the shining stars of this place.”
DeGrassi kept up a steady schedule of church lectures in Glendale, which he continued until he could no longer keep up his accustomed pace. Doyle and DeGrassi gave a series of lectures in the greater Los Angeles area about Irish art, music and culture.
“When Leonard was asked what art was about, he would say, ‘art is there
to show us who we are.’” Doyle said.