Patrick Brancaccio

WATERVILLE – Dr. Patrick Brancaccio, 85, died at home on New Year’s Eve 2019 with his wife Kate Cone at his side. For 40 years, Brancaccio was a beloved professor of English at Colby College. After his official retirement in 2003, Brancaccio continued to teach students of all ages. Trained in American literature with an expertise in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, he was a longtime chair of the Colby English Department. He helped to found Colby’s Black Studies program, one of the first in the Northeast, which he directed from 1971-1983. Brancaccio also directed the college’s program in London for several years.

Brancaccio had near-photographic recall of the knowledge in his imposing library. His scholarly writing ranged from the history of colonialism, to Strindberg in performance, to Edgar Allan Poe’s role in the origins of detective fiction.

Pat had a lifelong openness to new ideas and an appreciation for the power of diversity. In 1974, his passion for African literature led to a Fulbright fellowship to teach at the University of Madagascar. Accompanied by his wife, the late Ruth Brancaccio, and his three children Lisa, Peter, and David, Pat and family experienced a fascinating year punctuated by a coup d’etat and martial law.

Patrick Brancaccio was born in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, in 1934, the first of four children. His father, who emigrated from Italy, delivered laundry in Brooklyn. From the age of eleven, Pat helped on the route and kept the accounts. He attended Brooklyn College while living at home and studying in his basement. Pat was the first in his family to earn a college degree. He later received an MA from Ohio State and a PhD from Rutgers. For a time, he taught in New York City public schools and was a sales rep at a New York publishing house. With Ruth, a teacher and theater director, he traveled the world ranging from Tanzania to Scotland and points in between. For nearly two decades they owned a small house in Saint-Thibery, France where they welcomed many visitors from Maine and beyond.

After losing Ruth, his wife of 46 years, to cancer in 2004, Pat married writer Kate Cone in 2010 and the travels continued. They explored Venice, Bologna, Florence and Rome and loved their forays into the Valpolicella hills to sample wine.

Food played a big role in Pat and Kate’s life, with Kate learning to master Italian dishes for Pat’s discriminating palate. Each Christmas Eve, they planned and sourced a traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes crowned with Pat’s amazing tiramisu for dessert.

Pat drew great energy from teaching Colby students during the January program in Verona, Italy, which he directed for thirteen years. He joked that he felt like Julius Caesar with a “praetorian guard” as he walked Italian streets flanked by students who were sometimes Colby football players. In recent years, his Friends of the Goldfarb Center seminars at Colby attracted a loyal following of older learners through lectures on eclectic topics such as detective fiction, or food in film. He was also an avid photographer who occasionally exhibited around Waterville.

In his 1970 poem entitled “Positano,” Brancaccio wrote:

And after all this

what is it you’ve taught me?

A lot more about living

a little about dying

less than I need to know.

He is survived by his wife Kate; brother Anthony and wife Ann Brancaccio; daughter Lisa Brancaccio and husband Torben Brooks; son Peter Brancaccio and wife Laura Singer; son David and wife Mary Brancaccio; grandchildren Linus, Stella, Sam, Anna, Madeleine, and Nicholas. Kate’s three children consider Pat their step-father, mentor and friend. Samantha Ellyn and husband Nick, Megan Cornwall and husband Hamilton, Burke Hazard and wife Jamie all will miss Pat tremendously. And Finn, Katie and baby Maxine will miss their “Buppah” sorely.

For those who wish, memorial donations may be sent to the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine or the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Family and friends can visit at the Gallant Funeral Home, 10 Elm St., Waterville, 6-8 p.m. Friday Jan. 10, 2020. An online guestbook may be signed, condolences and memories shared at A memorial will be held in Lorimer Chapel, Colby College, 2 p.m., Saturday Jan. 11, 2020.