In memoriam-Joseph Buttigieg

Dr. Joseph Buttigieg, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Notre Dame was one of ALA’s early supporters and was instrumental in linking the prestigious Hesburgh-Yusko Scholarship Program to the Academy. He interviewed the very first scholarship winners to the scholarship following a visit to African Leadership Academy in 2012 and served as a mentor to all our students enrolled at the university.
We remain in his debt for seeing the potential in sharing ALA’s vision with the University of Notre Dame.

ALA alumni and former staffulty share their messages:

From Connor Toohil, ALA Staffulty Alumni:
Joe Buttigieg was my first mentor at Notre Dame. He was a brilliant and accomplished scholar, and a charismatic and engaging professor. I’ll remember him most, though, for his moral virtues: his devotion to his family and to his students; his selfless availability whenever one of us asked for half an hour of his time; his passion, his optimism, and his gift for seeing brilliance in those around him.

It’s difficult to communicate who Joe was and why his life was so transformative, to those who didn’t have the pleasure to spend time with him. So just know two things:

(1) Joe believed in this place: in ALA, in its mission of developing transformative leaders, and in the students who emerged from here. He believed in and he supported all of you.

(2) For the dozens who left ALA for South Bend, Indiana- Joe served as a professor, a mentor, and a father figure. He made the members of our community feel like they belonged, and he inspired their greatest hopes.

He was truly a member of the ALA family.

From Jason Saroni, ALA Class of 2012:
Professor B. had a giant moral passion, personal warmth, and a random educational conversation with anyone. He motivated me to think critically about my vocation and chart out my trajectory most appropriately. I remember him taking over an hour on a random encounter during a challenging freshman year to encourage that I have more optimism about the road ahead and think about how to make positive change through my passions. Prof. B. was there to give me scholarly support when I most needed it just as the ideal time to help is when people are most in need. He had big responsibilities but was also a friend who cared deeply.

From Geraldine Mukumbi, ALA Class of 2011:
I was drawn to Prof B because we shared a reverence for fiction and a deep disdain for the british colonial legacy Malta and Zimbabwe share. We spent hours in his office gossiping and talking about books. I consider my biggest achievement getting him to love Joseph Conrad a little less. However, I feel I received much more than I could ever offer. Prof. B taught me what it means to be a teacher. Through his love, his deep adoration for human connection, I learnt what it means to be present and to have your door open. Years after graduation, his inbox remained open. I received a few emails full of wisdom. Full of wit. Full of a sense of humanity I can only aspire towards.

Sometime in November 2017, I sent Professor B an email. I was relaying the scenes I saw in Harare and the uncertainty ahead. It was the day after Mugabe had ‘resigned’ and I wrote to share a piece of home. He wrote me back in a few hours and I would like to share his words. “I am in London right now. Inevitably, the events in Zimbabwe are bringing back memories of the first time I set foot in the UK to begin my studies in philosophy. It was 1968 and before long I was participating in the protests against the Smith regime and UDI”

You see, the first time Prof B ever got into trouble with the police was for my country. It was a memory he invoked in jest to get me to stop arguing with him so much.

He continues…“Among other things I am reflecting on the book MUKIWA and on the huge sacrifice in blood that was paid for Zimbabwe’s emergence as a sovereign nation…we should all hope that this new turn in Zimbabwe’s history will be bloodless.”

2 years later it is unfortunate that his hope was not realised. But even with the blood on our streets, I am reminded of another thing Professor B never allowed. – succumbing to pessimism. He ended the letter by acknowledging,

“You are right, that the future is full of uncertainty but that does not preclude hope—hope with caution.”

I am sharing this because I am sure he would not mind. Most importantly because in my heart, this will always be his legacy —  that fierce contagious impulse towards hope. Not a blind foundless hope but a firm hope with caution. I feel so privileged to have known Professor B, to have called him a mentor and friend. And in this difficult time, I imagine he is in a hopeful place with open doors and beautiful books.

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