Bookman Until the End
Master Zeng said: “A scholar must be strong and resolute, for his burden is heavy, and his journey is long. His burden is humanity: is this not heavy? His journey ends only with death: is this not long?”
— Analects of Confucius (8.7)
There comes a turning point in every movie about teaching, be it Bull Durham or Karate Kid, Ikiru or Red Beard, when the student recollects the lessons of his teacher contained in the small and humble things. Be they a word or gesture, a throwaway line or obtuse practice, virtue and knowledge were hidden all along—in plain sight. It seems easy to take a good man with a great heart for granted until one can’t.
This is definitely so now: the late Gerald Russello was that man.
When wise and worthy scholars perish, regret and gratitude are one and the same to those who knew their friendship and direction. Russello wore many hats and played many instruments. A successful lawyer in Manhattan by day, an author, scholar, and editor of the University Bookman by night: Russello seemed able to be all things to all men. I was consistently stunned at his proficiency: as examples, his editing kept in print writings of Christopher Dawson and Orestes Brownson.
He also got into print dozens and dozens of young writers. Welcoming both somebodies and nobodies, with a steady hand he aided and abetted our amateur hour into working prose. I first made his acquaintance when Russello published some old Russell Kirk columns I had transcribed in college. Years later, he was still willing to hear pitches and read submissions, always eagerly. He not only tolerated, but welcomed almost all ideas from all people. But you had to write well.
And he gave chance after chance to do so. Each time showed his mischievous, easygoing joy. This good cheer graced both encounter and correspondence as he forged a generation of us. “A small matter,” the Ghost said, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.” But, Scrooge replied, “Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
Dickens was right about Mr. Fezziwig . . . and Mr. Russello. Ever present on Twitter, his profile, UBookman, was Gerald Russello, and he was “UBookman.” His absence is already felt online: his personality had shown through messages asking how we were doing—equally courteous and caring toward friends and strangers alike. When in person, often at conferences, he was instinctually above intellectual status squabbles. It didn’t matter: he attended them for fun. For love of the game, so to speak. What he was as an editor, he was as a professional.
“Gerald became a dear friend and mentor,” Ms. Morgan Pino recounts, “who taught me how to be a lawyer,” yet “Gerald was more than just a model of his profession; he also showed me, by his humble example, how to be a person of faith in this world.” And what he was as a Catholic, he was as an intellectual. Like the late Peter Lawler, he outlined “postmodern conservatism,” an ethos of imagination willing to call out a mediocrity of thinking with a generosity of spirit.
On fiction writing, he recently wrote: “perhaps conservatives need not only put more emphasis on their criticism of what these proliferating self-enclosed worlds mean, but also start making a few of our own.” Russello did that in his own way. His model Christopher Dawson, he noted, looked to Augustine and Gibbon: “In his writings, Dawson did indeed achieve that union of history and literature that he so admired in Gibbon. But he performed an even greater task.”
Which was “the union of reason with faith that is the mark of a Christian scholar.” He never stopped writing and editing and encouraging. His humanity was public. “When I last spoke with him over the summer,” one friend recalls, “he was upbeat and looking forward to returning to practice full time after lots of chemo, but the cancer wasn’t done with him.” Neither were we.
His one-man band played on until the very end. Oh, what music it was.
Gerald J. Russello leaves behind his wife and their three children. For details about the funeral, please see here.
Featured image: The Russell Kirk Center in photo courtesy of The Russell Kirk Center via LinkedIn.