Raymond Grontkowski, Ph.D., GSAS 64, a fixture of Fordham’s philosophy department for six decades, died on Feb. 22, at age 83.
Grontkowski, an associate professor of philosophy, came to Fordham in 1958 as graduate student and began teaching two years later. When he was awarded a doctorate in 1964, his dissertation was “Descartes and Galileo: New Views on the Philosophy of Nature.”
He was among the first doctoral students to be inducted into the Fordham chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and in 1961 he was the first layperson to receive a full-time appointment in the philosophy department.
A passionate teacher according to those who knew him, he was director of the Fordham College Honors Program as well as the pre-medical advisor for first year students. This spring marked his 117th semester of service to the University-during which time it is estimated he taught classes such as Modern Philosophy and Epistemology to close to 16,000 students.
His dedication to students was reflected in his Bene Merenti award, which he received in 1981 for 20 years of service. In the citation, it was noted that:
“The whole campus is his office, for he is available to students at any time of the day. He offers advice to them when they seek it, holds extra classes when they need it, visits them when they are ill, and occasionally invites groups of faculty and students to his apartment for dinner, which he prepares himself with [most]gustatorial splendor.”
Margaret Donovan, FCRH ’77, administrative assistant for the philosophy department, knew “Dr. G.” as both a professor and a colleague, having taken his History of Modern Philosophy class as an undergraduate in 1975. In 2005, she joined the department and found herself in an adjacent office. They bonded over subjects as varied as Broadway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and action movies.
“Ray was a remarkable person. He was kind and generous. He was an incredibly efficient and understanding undergraduate chair, which is why he served in the position for 25 years,” she said.
“However, he was at his best when he was in the classroom, and he was still passionate and dynamic at the age of 83. He loved to teach and he loved his students. I will miss him dearly.”
John J. Drummond, the Robert Southwell S.J. Distinguished Professor in Philosophy and the Humanities, said that in the six years he served as chair of the department, Grontkowski, who was associate chair for undergraduate studies from 1987 to 2012, was an “operational master at getting the trains to run on time.”
“I never had to worry about courses be scheduled, instructors being found, students being advised, add-drops, and the like,” he said.
Drummond said he had fond memories of discussing and debating over Broadway plays, in particular Hamilton, which, much to his chagrin, Grontkowski did not find appealing.
“Over those years, I became familiar with what a marvelous teacher Ray was. His teaching evaluations were consistently extraordinary-“rave reviews,” in fact,” he said.
Jude Jones, Ph.D., FCRH ’85, associate professor of philosophy, did not have Grontkowski as a teacher when she attended Fordham as an undergraduate. But she recalled classmates speaking of him as “deeply committed, helpful, and uncannily able to bring a kind of human sense of humor even into subjects that tended to be unsettling, like death itself.”
Jones recalled that he was caring for his ailing mother when she joined the philosophy faculty. Years later, when she found herself in a similar situation with her own parents, he was “always supportive and empathetic.” She said he also had a sly sense of humor.
“Some of my favorite memories of Ray are his teasing about assigning me 8 a.m. classes if I didn’t accomplish a necessary task on time, and then immediately shifting gears to tell me about the latest Broadway show he had seen or was about to see,” she said.
“Ray was a unique human being and a cornerstone in Fordham philosophy’s identity through much of the second half of the 20th century. I will miss him and his mischievous but humane humor, and his great passion for life and service.”
Grontkowski is survived by his brother Thomas and sister-in-law Christine Grontkowski, GSAS ’69, who also earned a doctorate in philosophy.
Tuesday, Feb. 27 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
McGrath Funeral Home
20 Cedar Street, Bronxville
Mass of Christian Burial:
Wednesday, Feb 28, 10:30 a.m.
Fordham University Church, Rose Hill campus