Rocco Pallone, a former Fordham Italian language and literature professor, department chair, and professor emeritus known for his deep love of teaching, died on March 12 at his home in White Plains, New York. He was 88.
“He felt it was the most noble of professions,” Pallone’s son, Philip Pallone said, of his father’s dedication to pedagogy.
Pallone was a tough grader, but his persistence and enthusiasm kept his students coming back to his classes, Philip and former students recalled. “It was just always part of his fabric,” his son said. So much so, that after retiring from Fordham, Pallone continued to teach at Westchester Community college and tutored language learners, working with students until the very end; the day of his death, he corrected a paper for one of his grandchildren and held a tutoring session with a student.
“We’re happy for that final day of teaching, because that’s really what he cared about,” Phillip said.
Pallone was born in Roccasecca, Italy, on May 13, 1934, to Filippo and Maria (née Capuano) Pallone. Although it was built in the shadow of Monte Cassino, the mountain for which one of World War II’s most significant and bloody battles is named, Pallone was most proud that his hometown was the birthplace of Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher, theologian, and Catholic patron saint of universities and scholars.
During the winter of 1944 when he was just 9 years old, Pallone and his family sheltered in a mountain cave, watching as the Allies bombed the miles-long German blockade built through their town as they fought to liberate Rome. After the war, Pallone commuted by bus to take classes at the University of Rome. He emigrated to the United States with his family on the passenger ship Saturnia in 1955.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Pallone joined the U.S. Army and attended college on the G.I. Bill. He majored in Italian and French at City College of New York (CUNY) before receiving his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in comparative literature from NYU. At CUNY, he gathered a close-knit group of lifelong friends through whom he met his wife, Maria (née Mignone). They married at Mount Carmel Church in Mount Vernon, New York, on July 2, 1967.
Pallone was a high school French teacher and also taught Italian and French at Westchester Community College before joining the Fordham Department of Modern Languages and Literature in the 1970s.
“He brought his love and passion for the Italian language into the classroom…and it was infectious,” his former student John Calvelli said in an email. ‘He never dumbed anything down. He would help lift us up.”
Pallone genuinely wanted to see his students succeed, recalled Professor Joseph Perricone, who’s taught Italian at Fordham’s Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses for more than 40 years.
“I remember him as a dedicated teacher, a good professor, always available to students and interested in their wellbeing,” Perricone said.
Away from the lectern, Pallone was quiet, Philip said, but when he stood up to lecture in front of a room full of people, he was in his element. “He wouldn’t stop talking. I think for him, it was just, for whatever reason, where he felt comfortable communicating.” Philip fondly recalled how, when he was 5 years old, he accompanied his father on a trip to Italy with a group of students. At the Academy in Florence, Pallone began an impromptu lecture in front of the statue of David. As the crowd gathered, he switched between English, French, and Italian, working to include everyone.
“I remember being really mesmerized by it,” Philip said.
Pallone loved Fordham and brought his children to campus often — “my sister and I feel like we grew up on that campus,” Philip said. He graduated from Fordham Prep and his sister Mary earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University, as have many other members of their family.
Following a Catholic funeral service, Pallone was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in New Rochelle on March 18. He is survived by his wife Maria, children Philip and Mary, and six grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, Pallone’s family requests donations to the Enrico Fermi Educational Foundation, which provides scholarships to students of Italian descent. Donations should be made payable to the “Enrico Fermi Educational Fund of Yonkers” and include the memo “In Memory of Rocco Pallone.” They can be mailed to Enrico Fermi Foundation, Attn: Treasurer, 10 Alpha Street, Yonkers, NY 10707. Call (914) 589-1519 with questions.
—by Meredith Lawrence