Professor leaves ‘classic’ legacy
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 8, 2012 07:11
Ava Chitwood, a professor and head of the classics department, taught hundreds of students each semester and inspired many more in her life.
Chitwood, who passed away on Nov. 1 after suffering a heart attack, was known for an aura of energy that displayed her humor, intelligence and passion, friends and colleagues said.
Two memorial services will be held this week for Chitwood.
The first, a student-led libation ceremony, sponsored by the Classical Society, will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the solarium behind Cooper Hall. Guests will light candles on an altar of Chitwood’s favorite Greek goddess, Athena. Afterward, Van Hoda, a senior majoring in classical civilizations and religious studies, will lead the libation, a pouring of grape juice, symbolic of ceremonies the ancient Greeks conducted with wine.
“She dedicated her life to the study of classics,” Hoda said. “I thought it was something that was important to her, and it’s a common language for us who knew her, and it’s what we all have studied and loved. It was the most appropriate way to honor her memory.”
Another memorial service will take place Friday in the Grace Allen Room of the Library, where family, friends and colleagues will gather to honor her life.
Chitwood received her Ph.D. in classics from Johns Hopkins University and taught at USF since 2001, where she spearheaded efforts to enhance classics coursework, making it a more accessible field for students, both majors and non-majors.
Chitwood was honored last year by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for a decade of service. Last month, she was also honored by Student Disability Services with an AccessiBull award for her work with students, and was given the title of “honorary coach” by the USF football team for her work with student-athletes and Athletics advisers.
“She was the greatest professor I’ve ever had,” Suzannah Turnage, a senior majoring in classics and English literature, said. “She was inspiring. She really had the ability to make people want to learn … to dig deeper. That’s what made me admire her most. She really cared about all of her students.”
Turnage, who was Chitwood’s teaching assistant for her Greek civilization course this semester, said Chitwood made work “an absolute pleasure.”
Among Chitwood’s closest friends and colleagues was Eleni Manolaraki, a classics professor who knew Chitwood since she began working at the university in 2005.
“We were the only women in a group of six classicists, so I gravitated to her when I had a question about how things worked at USF,” Manolaraki said. “Over time, we developed a mutual trust in each other’s discretion, which eventually blossomed into friendship.”
Manolaraki said she had shared many experiences with Chitwood over the years, both personal and professional.
“One year, we were lamenting that our institutional gray office doors looked bleak,” she said. “On the spur of the moment, we drove to a store, bought paint, drove back and painted them canary yellow.”
As classics department head, undergraduate advisor and a member of various committees, Chitwood was often responsible for observing classes and lectures when needed. One of the more memorable moments, Manolaraki said, was a time when Chitwood observed her advanced Latin class in the spring.
“Out of respect for her time, I asked her to show up when she could, rather than give her a specific date,” she said. “I consider it one of the happiest serendipities of my life that she came on the day we were translating and discussing excerpts from Cicero’s ‘Amicitia,’ his treatise on friendship.
“It was a sheer coincidence, because we had not talked about my Cicero selections and she did not have my syllabus,” she said. “As my students translated and discussed the pleasures and responsibilities of true friends, I could hear Cicero validating our relationship as a genuine and abiding ‘amicitia.’ When class ended, I was not surprised to see Ava’s eyes brimming with tears; mine were, too.”
In the Latin language studied by those in the field of classics, Manolaraki had a wish for her friend: “Requiescat in pace,” may she rest in peace.