I feel as if John has given me the most difficult assignment. He
always used to, and it won’t be the last, I’m afraid.
When I was asked to speak about John
Daverio in this memorial, my heart stopped: I wanted that so much;
I have so many memories, so many things to share. And then I realized
I could put none of that on paper. Those times, all of those moments
that John and I shared would prove to be meaningless, out of context
or, worse, self-indulgent. We all have days’ worth of stories
to share, anecdotes, reminiscences – and I ask that you treasure
yours as I treasure mine.
I had the
privilege to know John Daverio as a teacher, as a thesis and dissertation
advisor, and as a scholar. Many of us here in this room, who had
the opportunity to spend countless hours listening to his lectures,
know that these were among the most inspiring lectures of our lives
– and in a way one could trace the line of influence –
sorry John for using this term(!) – from the legendary Murray
Lefkowitz to Dr. Sheveloff, professor extraordinaire, both of whom
taught and in turn inspired John. While most of us in this field
feel lucky if we complete one book in a decade, John completed no
fewer than three books in the past ten years! His hundreds of articles,
reviews, and essays will continue to educate generations, and his
scholarship will be standard reference for years to come.
John was a phenomenal teacher, and a superb and inspiring scholar,
respected by everyone in his field. His dignity, integrity, inimitable
wit (a word he much preferred to humor) and his down-to-earth manners
made him one of the most admired people. To me John was primarily
a dear, dear friend. It was my honor to be his friend and share
in his personal joy with a laughter or in his difficult days with
a smile. It is very rare that one may find any one such friend in
life – what an extraordinarily lucky person am I.
Allow me to indulge
here for a minute: In the past two months we all heard over and
over again how predictable John was, how set in his ways. Well,
every once in a while he would do something completely out of character.
I remember when he mentioned to me, with a grin on his face, that
Theodore had invited him to a conference in Greece. He was very
excited, but did not show it. Right away, he did something anyone
would do before traveling to another country: get a travel guide,
right? No – John started learning Greek! Needless to say,
in two months he had mastered the language (including inflection
and accent), and he was only too eager to start talking in Greek
to everyone around him – probably many of you here today remember
what this experience was like in one way or another!
When it was time for him to book his flight, he decided to fly to
Greece on a Wednesday, go to the conference on Thursday, and be
back the following Monday. I thought that was absolutely crazy!
I said, “John, you have to make plans to stay longer! You
can’t just go to Greece for five days, you have to stay at
least for ten!” John’s question, in his nonchalant way:
“What am I going to do in Greece for ten days?” I suggested
that he take this opportunity to spend some extra days traveling
around the islands. John insisted: “But, what am I going to
do alone on the islands?” So, I made the sacrifice to accompany
him to Santorini!
John had the time of his life. So much so, that the next year he
did even something more unpredictable: he took two weeks of vacation
in Greece! I had never seen him more relaxed, excited, even tanned!
If some of you remember him being extra energized after that trip,
if he had an extra bounce on his step, if he seemed to be a little
more restless than usual, it was not only because he was extremely
happy – it was also because he was drinking more coffee! I
tried to explain to him that instant ice coffee, the way we drink
it in Greece, was not the same as drip coffee. Well, maybe you also
experienced it yourselves, because John kept coffee and a shaker
in his office permanently from that time on and served frappé
to everyone who would be brave enough to take it…
John loved to share.
From ideas and intellectual arguments to the latest jokes and his
dessert at the end of the meal – preferably chocolate. Everyone
who knew John well will tell you that he loved life, his work, making
music, and reading literature. He was truly one of the most beautiful
men one would ever know.
Those of us who were present at his funeral, realized partly why
John was that amazing – his parents are equally extraordinary;
they wanted to share stories and pictures, tell us what a talented
violinist he was at 13, and how he entered BU at 16. Actually, his
mother mentioned to me the following day that John started singing
back song phrases when he was 9 months old! As John would say, let
us all think what we could do when we were 9 months…
Minutes ago we
heard Brahms’s beautiful Requiem, and I would like to have
a Brahmsian moment with you – only, I don’t know what
words of consolation to give. I lost a friend and family member.
I still don’t know how to live without John. I have just started
to experience the impact of not having him around, and I can’t
presume to know what each one of us here needs to do to fill that
But I am happy about one thing: John knew how much he was loved
and respected; at least, this is not the first time he has heard
wonderful words from his close friends and colleagues. How wonderful
that we had had plenty of opportunities to honor him in life! This
is some true consolation to me.
We will all have to go on carrying
all the amazing gifts John offered us. On the dedication page of
his last book, a most extraordinary gift, John quoted an ancient
Greek saying, followed by his own translation: “With the passage
of time, old things become new.” Maybe this should be part
of the consolation: for us to pass his lessons on to our students
and continue his scholarship with the same sincerity, dedication
and some (only some) of his brilliance. I once quoted to him the
following by Elytis, a line that John loved:
“All great music is in essence an affront to death.”
Let’s keep on making music. As an affront to John’s
death. Or else, let’s silence. He would love that too.