An ‘amazing public orator’: UC Berkeley Italian studies professor Steven Botterill dies at 60

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Craig Davidson/Courtesy

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Steven Botterill, a UC Berkeley professor of Italian studies, died at age 60 on May 5.

Botterill came to UC Berkeley from England in 1986 to become an assistant professor of Italian studies, according to Albert Russell Ascoli, a professor and colleague of Botterill’s for 23 years in the campus department of Italian studies. He added that Botterill was generous with how much time he spent with students, was well-spoken and had became chair of the department when Ascoli was first hired in 1995.

“He was the kind of professor other professors want to be,” said Mia Fuller, a campus professor of Italian studies, in an email. “His lectures, drawing on his expertise as a Dante scholar but ranging over his many other areas of interest, from American poetry to political biographies, made the room fall quiet and really listen, with maybe a little awe at his smooth transitions, made without notes or apparent prep, and his English accent.”

Botterill was also a great scholar with academic contributions including 27 scholarly articles, about 100 reviews and over 100 public lectures or talks, according to Ascoli. He added that Botterill authored two works on classical Italian poet Dante, both of which are widely studied pieces of literature.

According to Craig Davidson, Botterill’s husband, Botterill was an “amazing public orator” and was often asked to be a commencement speaker. Davidson said Botterill was able to speak without notes because he always spoke from “the heart and head” and never hid anything, always proudly introducing Davidson as his husband, partner or spouse.

“He was at his best presiding over commencement, in his scarlet robe and his eight-sided cap from Cambridge, but underneath it all — a Cal tie,” said campus Italian studies professor Ignacio Navarrete in an email. “His British accent brought a dignity to the occasion that demanded the same from the rest of us.”

Davidson said Botterill was a noble person whose brilliance was on par with Einstein’s. Davidson recalled how one of his husband’s students wrote to Botterill, explaining how he chose to study Dante at Cambridge as a result of Botterill’s influence.

According to Davidson, they met at the now-closed Tower Records-Video-Books store in San Francisco on Market Street in the classical music section when Davidson walked up to Botterill and said, “Did anyone ever tell you you were good-looking?” after which they were together every day for 26 years.

“My life was irrevocably changed from the day I met him, and I’ll miss him from the day I die,” Davidson said. “We had a connection with each other that people to tried to emulate.”

Contact Yao Huang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Yhoneplus.

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