To: The St. Lawrence Community
From: William L. Fox, President
Date: June 20, 2012
Subject: In Memory: Ali Pomponio
St. Lawrence has lost one of our most respected scholars, one of our most inspirational teachers, and one of our most cherished friends with the death yesterday afternoon of Professor of Anthropology Alice Pomponio.
“If humans do it, anthropologists can study it.” Ali shared that motto with her students at St. Lawrence since 1983, and lived it through her scholarship and travels. Ali studied and published in the fields of linguistics, psychological anthropology, and the anthropology of religion, sex and gender, education and culture in Papua New Guinea, Africa and Italy. She was the author of two books, Seagulls Don't Fly Into the Bush: Cultural Identity and Development in Melanesia and, as senior editor, Children of Kilibob: Creation, Cosmos, and Culture in Northeast New Guinea. She also worked on, with a student research assistant, a long-term project to write an encyclopedic dictionary and grammar of an endangered Austronesian language from the Siassi Islands region of Papua New Guinea. Her encyclopedic dictionary and grammar was designed to be user-friendly, accessible, and above all useful to the people who need it most, the Siassi Islanders and their children.
Although her primary area of expertise was in the Southwestern Pacific, she also studied in Africa and developed St Lawrence courses from those extensive travels. She co-directed the University's Kenya semester program, relished her teaching in the First-Year Program, and gave herself unstintingly as a mentor to students who became McNair Scholars.
All of us who knew Ali recall her delight in traveling with her husband, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Richard Perry, and their son, Gregory. They accompanied her in 2007-2008 when she received a Fulbright Award to teach at the University of Siena in order to study the ethno-history of the Palio, a centuries-old, bare-back horse race. She spent a year of study there as an undergraduate, earning her bachelor's degree from SUNY Geneseo with a double-major in Italian language and literature and anthropology. Ali also conducted research in Siena for her master's degree thesis, from Bryn Mawr College, where she also earned her Ph.D.
I admired Ali’s unequivocal devotion to her students. Within a few weeks of my arrival on campus, she invited me to lunch. Having heard about her from colleagues and new neighbors, I fully expected that the new president was going to get an earful of admonitions from a senior professor who held strong convictions. All that, of course, was present in our first of many lively conversations—her sense of academic rigor, professional excellence, and pride in the St. Lawrence faculty traditions. I loved every minute of the “Pomponio Dialectic.” What else could we call it? But the most vivid and animated comments were always about the students, particularly those students in their moments of sudden apprehension when coming to new terms of understanding a complex theory. She lived for that magic to happen.
Her devotion to the classroom was recognized last fall when she received the J. Calvin Keene Award, one of our two most prestigious honors for faculty. Outside of work, Ali loved classical and flamenco guitar, walking, swimming, and cross-country skiing. She once wrote a children's picture books based on her scholarly work in Papua New Guinea, to expand the potential audience interested in other cultures, and to do so accurately. In every possible way, given her range of interests and passions, she embodied the Renaissance spirit of her Italian heritage.
Our community deeply mourns this great loss and shares its heartfelt sympathies with Dick and Gregory, their family, and many friends. I invite you to offer your memories on our Web site. A memorial service will be held Wednesday, October 17, at 4:30 p.m.in Gunnison Chapel.
Note: Ali's friends and colleagues have established the Ali Pomponio Research Award for International Studies. Gifts to this fund in Ali's memory may be made on-line or directly. Donation directions are found here.