Arizona Daily Wildcat
Co-workers say his teaching contributions during 35 years at UA important to the
After a battle with cancer, John Gesell, a lecturer in the French and Italian department with 35 years at the UA, died last Thursday. He was 63.
"It's a blessing that he died as he did, in a very serene manner," said Jean Goetinck, a lecturer in the French and Italian department. "And, Thanksgiving Day was very appropriate."
Gesell, born in Glendive, Mont., on Aug. 2, 1937, joined the University of Arizona faculty in 1965 as a lecturer of French
"He always laughed," Goetinck said. "He seemed to float above the difficulties of life."
Gesell was diagnosed with cancer about four years ago, and it was successfully removed in an operation. Seven months ago, the cancer came back and spread quickly.
Elizabeth Zegura, a senior lecturer in the French and Italian department and the French undergraduate adviser, said Gesell was a wonderful professor.
"He motivated many students and was a friendly face in the department," she said. "His great background in so many areas helped him with students."
While students will remember Gesell as a kind teacher, Zegura said that she and other faculty members knew him best for his dedication to the arts.
In 1968, Gesell founded "Le Treteau de Tucson," a French-language drama group comprised of faculty and graduate students. He also worked with local schools and served as the director for the department's summer program in France.
At the UA, Gesell volunteered with the International Arts Society and was the chair from 1987 to 1988.
"He was the workhorse of our department," Goetinck said. "He was exceedingly enthusiastic and never refused new tasks."
Gesell had a great love for theater, opera, cooking and chamber music. Zegura said she would miss seeing him at concerts around town and going to parties at his house.
"I met my husband at one of his parties," she said. "He felt as young as the students and was an important person to our program."
He is survived by his 94-year-old mother, Florence Gesell, from Chinook, Mont.; sister Ina Sovereign, from Tampa, Fla.; brother James Robert and sister-in-law James Robert, from Tempe; and niece Tamira Ferr also from Montana.
The French and Italian department will host a celebration of Gesell's life on Jan. 19 in the Modern Languages Auditorium. People are encouraged to bring and share humorous anecdotes, Goetinck said.
Rebecca Missel can be reached at email@example.com.