Paul Alpers, husband of Smith College President Carol T. Christ, dies of cancer

Last modified: Tuesday, July 02, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Paul J. Alpers, the husband of Smith College President Carol T. Christ and an unofficial ambassador for the school, died Sunday night after a battle with cancer.

Alpers, 80, died the same day that the college he loved held its 135th graduation ceremony and just a few weeks before Christ is to retire after 11 years as Smith’s 10th president.

In her remarks to the college community during Ivy Day Convocation on Saturday, Christ fondly remembered arriving at the Northampton campus with her husband after a cross-country journey from the University of California Berkeley.

“For me, these past 11 years have been a remarkable journey,” Christ recalled. “It began on a beautiful day in the spring of 2002 when Paul and I set out from Berkeley in our car, having decided that driving across country would give us the time and space we needed to absorb such a momentous transition.”

The couple traveled on two-lane highways over six days, preferring to be closer to the communities that sprinkled the landscape.

“Along the way, we listened to Haydn’s string quartets and read aloud to each other from Trollope’s ‘The Way We Live Now,’ ” Christ said.

Alpers served as an unofficial ambassador for Smith, cherishing the friendships he made with many college alumnae from around the world, according to an email sent to the campus community Monday morning by Marilyn Schuster, provost and dean of the faculty.

Alpers was a professor in residence in the department of English language and literature. Schuster described him as a distinguished scholar, a faculty colleague and friend to the Smith community.

Colleague Scott Bradbury, professor of classical languages and literatures, said he will remember Alpers at his post in the president’s living room, “tall and dignified, yet at ease and gracious as he moved through a crowd of guests.”

“He was a wonderful conversationalist and great storyteller, whether about the opera, which he and Carol loved, or the book he last read or recent trips to China or the Middle East,” Bradbury said.

Alpers, who earned a doctorate in English at Harvard University, spent 38 years as a member of the English department at the University of California, Berkeley.

During his tenure, he was awarded most of the academic honors to which a first-rank humanities professor in America can aspire, Bradbury said. When he retired, he held the title Class of 1942 Professor of English Emeritus.

After coming to Smith, Alpers helped teach classes in classics and continued to offer guest lectures in his field of Renaissance literature. At Smith, he also ran faculty seminars, read colleagues’ work and delivered public lectures.

Besides his wife, Alpers leaves his sons, Benjamin Alpers and Nicholas Alpers; his stepchildren, Elizabeth Sklute and Jonathan Sklute; and his brothers David Alpers and Edward Alpers.

The college said a memorial service is being planned.