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April 3, 2008

Obituary: Harry J. Mooney Jr.

Retired English professor Harry J. Mooney Jr. died March 18, 2008. He was 80.

Mooney joined the faculty in 1962 as an assistant professor after completing his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Pitt. He became an associate professor in 1967 and was promoted to professor in 1970. He was the department’s director of graduate studies 1973-77, and retired from the English department in 2002.

He specialized in American, British, French and Russian novels of the 19th and 20th centuries and in general narrative and critical theory. Mooney published four books: “The Fiction and Criticism of Katherine Anne Porter” (1957); “James Gould Cozzens: Novelist of Intellect” (1964); “Leo Tolstoy: The Epic Vision” (1969), and a collection of essays, edited with Thomas F. Staley, “The Shapeless God: Essays in Modern Literature” (1968).

English department chair David Bartholomae, in a message announcing Mooney’s death to the department, recalled Mooney as a figure of major importance in the community for more than 40 years. “We remember him as tall and courtly, a man about town, always ready to talk about the latest New Yorker. He was a scholar with an impressive knowledge of the 19th- and 20th-century novel (U.S., European, Russian); he was a popular teacher, with a large following of students.”

Joe Emanuele of Jay’s Book Stall in Oakland recalled Mooney as a brilliant, gentle man with a droll sense of humor who endeared himself to the bookstore staff.

Now 58, Emanuele’s first recollections of the professor were from Emanuele’s days as a grade school student at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Mooney was a parishioner. But their real acquaintance began after Emanuele took a job at the bookstore as a teen.

For decades, Jay’s was the professor’s regular stop. Until he became ill three years ago, Mooney would stop in the store each weekday at 5 p.m. “People here knew him and loved him and we’d expect him every day,” Emanuele said.

Mooney would say hello, then proceed downstairs for a look at the new books. After reading until the store closed, Mooney would chat with Emanuele — mainly about the events of the day, although he could converse on any topic.

“Even the things he didn’t really like, he knew about. He knew about everything,” Emanuele said, adding that Mooney couldn’t be fooled if someone feigned knowledge. “You couldn’t play games with him. He’d find you out,” he said with a laugh.

Emanuele said it was understandable why students were fond of Mooney, noting that for many, one class with the professor wasn’t enough. “They loved him as a teacher,” he said.

Emanuele counts himself even more fortunate than the students who paid to sit in Mooney’s classroom. “I had him here for free every day. We’d talk and I got educated every day of the week.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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