Cancer claims beloved Santa Chiara Study Center director

Paolo Barucchieri

Share your own memories and read others' -- visit the Remembering Paolo Facebook group.

The world just got a little less interesting, concluded a Monday, April 9 email from Rome announcing the passing of Paolo Barucchieri, longtime director of Texas A&M’s study abroad program in Italy and beloved figure to the hundreds of Aggies who studied there over the last three decades.

Barucchieri, who taught legions of students how to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, had succumbed to cancer that morning in a Roman hospital, his wife, Sharon Jones, reported to his friends and former students. He was 76 years old.

A memorial service for Barucchieri, the founding director of the Santa Chiara Study Center in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy, took place May 5 in the Rudder Exhibit Hall, located within the Rudder Theatre Complex. 

In addition to his directorship, Barucchieri served the study center as an executive professor, teaching an Arts and Civilization course and leading students on countless study tours around the country.

“What a privilege it was to study with Paulo, a man who could not contain his humor and passion for life,” wrote Laura Massey Davis ’97, one of dozens who’ve shared their remembrances of Barucchieri on the College of Architecture’s Facebook page. “My path and career were forever changed for the better as a result of my time in Italy. Thank you, Paulo. You will be missed.”

Her sentiments were echoed numerous times in Facebook anecdotes from former study abroad students recounting the professor’s profound, life-changing impact.

“This amazing man meant so much to me,” posted Jennifer Heuck ‘11 to the “Remembering Paolo” Facebook group, which had accrued more than 800 members within a day of his death. “The most important thing he did for me was helping me cut the lines that held me down and helping me to see the beauty of what had existed over the centuries and what was in me. Paolo taught me how to walk, breathe, live and love in a whole new way that I have had in me since I met him … Paulo will always be one of the greatest men I've ever met.”

In her email announcement, Jones said family and friends showered Barucchieri with love in his final days, but their sorrow and sadness cannot be described.

“Despite his heroic fight and the unrelenting care of the doctors in Rome, the progress of this cancer could not be stopped,” she wrote. “Paolo’s strength and dignity throughout this horrific period was nothing less than inspiring. The extreme pain and complete lack of mobility for months was very hard on him, but he never gave up hope. From his bedside he attended to program details and worried about the students having a good experience.”

Though he slowly lost his voice during the ordeal, Jones said, he kept his sense of humor right up to the end, joking with nurses, insisting they learn some Tuscan expressions and quizzing them on art history.

Barucchieri’s legacy will live on through the lives of the countless students and faculty whom he touched and influenced, said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture. “The level of understanding and emotional support Paolo provided our students was unequalled. He brought enlightened attention to the higher ideas, intentions and qualities of art and architecture that he shared with so many.”

Faculty members at the college are also mourning Barucchieri’s passing.

“It is with deep sadness that I learn of this news,” said Russell Reid, senior lecturer of landscape architecture, “but also I feel a great sense of fortune to have known, worked with, and learned the great level of life's experiences with someone who truly knew the magnificent beauty that life offers.”

Barucchieri, said Peter Lang, associate professor of architecture and Santa Chiara faculty member, never took anything for granted: “He constantly challenged you, raising the ante, poking at your ideas and beliefs. He liked to keep you on your toes. Maybe that is one reason for the jar of hot peppers he kept at the dinner table next to him.”

Barucchieri held a Ph.D. in Italian medieval art earned in 1972 at the University of Wisconsin, a Master of Fine Art earned at the University of Northern Colorado in 1969, and a Bachelor of Art in Architectural Design earned in 1967 at the University of Florence, Italy.

He was an accomplished artist whose work can be viewed at Texas A&M’s Santa Chiara Store, where limited edition reproduction prints of his original ink and watercolor and ink and charcoal drawings are available for purchase.

His work was first exhibited at the University of Firenze in Florence in 1963, with other exhibits in the 70s and 80s in Italy and Germany. Galleries in Colorado, New Mexico and Washington D.C. also exhibited his art.

A flying enthusiast, Barucchieri was president of the Serristori Aviation School in Castiglion Fiorentino.

“I remember our quiet and most extraordinary flights over Tuscany, just Paolo and myself observing the beauty below us,” said Philip Tabb, professor of architecture, who taught at Santa Chiara three different semesters. “That spirit of land was such an integral part of Paolo.”

He also established Campo Serristori, a school for physically challenged aviation students.

In 1972, as a member at the University of Northern Colorado faculty, Barucchieri led his first student group to Italy, where they stayed at a monastery. Ten years later, in 1982, Texas A&M’s Italian Study Abroad venue was launched at La Poggerina, near Florence, with Barucchieri teaching art history classes and leading seminars until 1989 when the center had to relocate due to a pending sale.

“He created a superb learning environment at La Poggerina, and when it was necessary to move, he invested over a year of his life to finding and establishing the current Santa Chiara Study Center,” recalled Julius Gribou, executive vice provost at the University of Texas at San Antonio and former head of the Department of Architecture at Texas A&M. “I have been able to witness its growth from a building nearly ruined to its current, glorious state.”

The Santa Chiara Study Center was founded at Castiglion Fiorentino in 1989 with the Texas A&M College of Architecture as its initial affiliate.

As director, Barucchieri dedicated his life to making the student and faculty experience in Italy a highly desirable one that impacted them for the rest of their lives, wrote Gribou, in a letter nominating Paolo for the 2003 Bush Excellence in International Teaching Award.

“Having visited numerous U.S. universities’ facilities in Italy, I must state what Paolo has created has no equal,” Gribou wrote. “While directing the center and dealing with the daily logistical endeavors, Paolo has always remained a great educator and mentor, imparting in the students not only the exhaustive amount of knowledge about the Italian art, architecture and society, but also an attitude about life that has affected everyone who has had the privilege of coming in contact with him.”

In the 30 years since its founding partnership with Texas A&M, the Santa Chiara Study Center has provided a cross-cultural experience for hundreds of students each year, adding universities in Colorado, California, Missouri and Kansas and expanding its Texas clientele to include the University of Houston, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at San Antonio.

“As difficult as it will be for us, we will continue to share the passion for design and art that Paolo brought to us,” said Elton Abbott, the college’s assistant dean for international programs and initiatives. “I know he would want nothing less. The programs will not be the same, but the memories will provide us strength to go forward.”

But it will not be easy to proceed without him, said his wife, Sharon. “The world without our Captain Paolo is a different place; it seems emptier, more quiet, less interesting.”

To honor Paolo, the College of Architecture hung a long black swath of cloth, stretching from the fourth floor of the Langford Architercture Center atrium. Adjacent to the cloth, on the second floor in front of the Wright Gallery, was a leather-bound book in which students and faculty were urged to share their memories of Paolo. The book was presented to his youngest daughter, Paola Barucchieri Guild, at the service.

Contributions may be made to the Santa Chiara scholarship fund on the Texas A&M Foundation website. The name of the account is the "Santa Chiara Scholarship Endowment," account number 074700. Checks can be made payable to Texas A&M for the "Santa Chiara Scholarship Endowment" and mailed to Mary Conrady’s attention at 415 Hotard, 4255 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4255. Additionally, Paolo donated some of his own art to raise funds for the study abroad scholarship. The art can be viewed and purchased online at the Santa Chiara Store. Proceeds benefit the Santa Chiara Scholarship Endowment.

posted April 10, 2012