Charter SFU History Faculty Member John Spagnolo has Sadly Passed Away at the age of 81

SFU History warmly remembers one of its founding members  

March 30, 2016

SFU history charter faculty member John Spagnolo was part of the first wave of professors to make SFU the exceptional institution it is today.

Born on August 1, 1934 in British-mandated Palestine, Spagnolo spent much of his youth in Lebanon. At the American University of Beirut, Spagnolo discovered his enduring love for history before leaving for Oxford where he spent some of the happiest days of his life studying Franco-Ottoman history under Albert Hourani at St. Antony’s College.  With DPhil in hand, he and his wife took a circuitous route (via their beloved Beirut) before settling in the Vancouver Lower Mainland in 1966 where he began his career in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. 

Professor Spagnolo taught an extraordinary variety of courses in the modern history of the Middle East during his thirty-three years at SFU. As a published scholar, Spagnolo was best known for his work on British and French influences in the Ottoman Empire and published two books: Problems of the Modern Middle East in Historical Perspective: Essays in Honour of Albert Hourani and France and Ottoman Lebanon, 1861-1914 (St. Antony's Middle East monographs). He pursued his ongoing investigation of Franco-British relations in the Middle East after his retirement in 1999.

A devoted husband, father, and grandfather, Spagnolo is survived by his beloved wife Penelope "Penny" (née Straugheir), daughters Rebecca and Tabitha, and granddaughter Jacqueline. He will be remembered for his abiding loyalty to his family and his insatiable thirst for knowledge and enlightenment that was surpassed only by his great sense of fun.

Below, John Spagnolo is remembered by some of his colleagues and friends at SFU history.

Professor  Phillip Stigger, Retired (SFU Department of History)

John grew up in Lebanon and, after graduating from the American University in Beirut, went to Oxford.  There, he wrote his dissertation on "French Influence in the Mutașarrifiya of Lebanon." This study opened by making reference to the 1860 Druze and Marionite conflict, and covered the period to 1885.  He expanded this to cover the years up to 1914, leading to his 1972 London publication, "France and Ottoman Lebanon 1861-1914". He returned to Beirut to teach at the American University. John arrived at SFU in 1966, where he was a valued acquisition.  His knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the modern Middle East, and long residence there, enabled him to introduce students effectively to the region.  He was able to highlight both its attractive and its unattractive features.  This he continued to do, leaving many students and others in his debt. 

Professor Stephen Duguid (SFU Department of Humanities)

John was an expert on Lebanese history, culture and politics, and along with SFU History’s Alan Cunningham, Peter Kup, Pip Stigger and later Bill Cleveland, formed the core of the History Department's early specialization in African and Middle Eastern Studies. John was a very 'formal' man, in the British tradition I suppose; very friendly and warm, but always in a suit with a tie and vest. I was 'lured' to SFU by Alan Cunningham who I met while a graduate student at the University of Chicago, but when I was working on my MA and later PhD John Spagnolo was someone I did reading courses with and was a TA for him in the (then) History 292. It was the late 1960's and as my 'politics' shifted further and further to the Left my relationship with John grew more strained, but our conversations and arguments always ended with a smile, a warm handshake and a promise to continue talking. 

Professor Derryl MacLean (SFU Department of History)

I was proud to count John as a friend as well as a colleague.  He was one of the few scholars on the Middle East who was able to combine a clear scholarly methodology with compassion for his subjects.  I was very pleased that he was able to participate in our Middle East events at SFU, even after retirement, and we had him listed as one of our research scholars on the web page of our Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures. The Lebanese community had a very high regard for John as did the World Lebanese Cultural Union. John was a gentle and complex man with many skills. We will all miss him here in the Department of History.

A memorial page can be found at the website of McKenzie Funeral Services (West Vancouver).  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the North Shore Hospice Society in North Vancouver.

No comments yet

Other recent news