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Stanford Report, July 23, 2003

Longtime professor Lucio Ruotolo, expert on Virginia Woolf, dies


Lucio Ruotolo, a professor emeritus of English whose work on Virginia Woolf helped to cement her reputation as one of the great writers of the 20th century, died July 4 at Stanford Hospital. He was 76.

The cause was complications following heart surgery, family members said.

Born March 14, 1927, in New York City, Ruotolo was the son of a Viennese-born mother and an Italian-born father, a sculptor known for his busts of luminaries such as Arturo Toscanini, Thomas Edison, Theodore Dreiser and Helen Keller. (Four works by Onorio Ruotolo have been donated to the Cantor Center for Visual Arts by Lucio Ruotolo and his wife of 43 years, Marcia Mauney Ruotolo.)

Ruotolo was an only child and grew up among his parents' Bohemian entourage. His kindergarten teacher was Jackson Pollock, and one of the family's closest friends was the painter Thomas Hart Benton.

He was drafted in 1945 into the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he was trained as a high-speed radio operator. He left the service two years later and enrolled at Colgate University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English, and then Columbia University, where he earned master's and doctoral degrees in English. In 1957, he was hired as an acting instructor in English at Stanford and roughly two years later was made an assistant professor.

Ruotolo was founding editor of Virginia Woolf Miscellany, a newsletter launched in 1973 that is still published, and author of The Interrupted Moment: A View of Virginia Woolf's Novels (Stanford University Press, 1986), in which he asserts that Woolf's characters who "allow the chaotic intrusion of events or people to reshape expectations emerge as her most creative heroines."

Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is a subject of his award-winning first book, Six Existential Heroes: The Politics of Faith (Harvard University Press, 1973), in which he explores existentialism as a positive, life-embracing philosophy that can serve as a catalyst for change.

"The book grew out of the notion of a hero who develops in relation to a world he seeks to remedy," Ruotolo said in a 1983 interview with the News Service. "My object was to redefine the notion of an existential hero in more political terms. ... A recurring criticism of existentialism is its supposed disposition to pessimism, anarchy and disillusion -- that it remains essentially a destructive posture. I assume that the courage to raise the question 'If not something, why not nothing?' is linked to the capacity to suspend, at least provisionally, traditional solutions and to entertain often radically new procedures."

Ruotolo himself was active in promoting political change. He protested against the Vietnam War, worked for Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign and served as co-president of the Stanford-Palo Alto Democratic Club.

Outside scholarship and politics, baseball was one of his most abiding passions. He was a Giants fan and frequent season-ticket holder. "We were elated when they won. We were depressed when they lost," said his colleague and fellow Giants aficionado Ronald Rebholz, a professor emeritus of English. "He was one of the most fantastic fans I've ever known."

In the arena of sports fandom, another longtime friend, Bliss Carnochan, the Richard W. Lyman Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, sometimes found himself at odds with Ruotolo for supporting the Dodgers. "Finally, Lucio and I decided not to discuss such matters," Carnochan explained.

Carnochan, who attended ice hockey games with Ruotolo, described him as a "vociferous fan" whose enthusiasm was contagious. "He was a remarkably generous person," Carnochan said.

In addition to his wife, Ruotolo is survived by three children: Cristina Ruotolo of El Cerrito, Vanessa Ruotolo of San Francisco and Peter Ruotolo of Dublin, Ireland.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the First Presbyterian Church Endowment Fund for Social Justice -- 1140 Cowper St., Palo Alto, CA 94301 -- or to another charity. A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at the church.


Lucio Ruotolo