George Pepe, 1939-2023

The department mourns the loss of our beloved Emeritus colleague, George Pepe. George passed away peacefully on May 2 in San Diego, where he had moved a few years after his retirement in 2015. He was 83.

George received his bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in 1961 and his doctorate from Princeton in 1966, with a dissertation on Peitho (Persuasion) in Greek literature from Homer to Plato. He began teaching in the Washington University Classics Department in 1965, and continued there until his retirement. He served multiple times as department chair, and oversaw important faculty hires, the last being that of John & Penelope Biggs Distinguished Professor Tim Moore (shown with George here). He stood up for the department’s programs and members on every occasion. Having seen decades of change and growth, he was the unofficial department historian; without the benefit of any electronic archives, he continued sharing priceless background, stories, and reflections with new members.

While he was especially well-read in – and identified with by students – Latin literature and Roman history, George was a generalist and polymath rather than a publishing scholar, rigorously keeping up with contemporary work in Classics and starting conversations about the new scholarship he carried around daily under his arm. He considered all areas of the field to be worth his attention, never missed a departmental colloquium, and always asked thoughtful questions. He could often be found at lectures and events around campus as well, as he had many longtime friends on the faculty in other fields. He was an avid student of the history of Classics and Classical reception in the U.S. He read widely in history, poetry, fiction, and current events.

George’s most treasured work was his teaching. He was a legend in the classroom, challenging students while making them feel valued and seen as people. He addressed students formally by their last names, something the students enjoyed as much as his tenacious, Socratic teaching style and his humor. George relished welcoming new students in their first hours at the university, celebrating with them and their families at graduation, and everything in between. He taught a heavy load and he taught across the Classics curriculum: both Greek and Latin at all levels and across a wide range of authors; history, literature, philosophy, political thought, etymology, and reception; undergraduate and graduate; evening and summer courses; independent studies whenever they were begged for. Countless undergraduate and graduate students called him their favorite professor; many of them came back to campus to celebrate his retirement. George was formally honored for his teaching several times over, the last time with Arts & Sciences’ David Hadas Teaching Award in 2013.

Classics was not George’s only sandbox. He co-founded the Text and Traditions program, which lives on as a minor and feeder program within the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities. He taught a wide range of courses for T&T and was a regular instructor of the program’s Early Political Thought seminar even after his formal retirement. Upon his retirement, and on his request, the George Pepe Scholarship was created to support undergraduates studying Classics or Text and Traditions. George also directed the Master of Liberal Arts program for nearly a decade.

A 2012 interview with Student Life gives you a taste of George’s colorful character and what he brought to the departmental and university community. First-generation Italian-American (he continued to follow Italian news media in Italian), Bronx-raised, Jesuit-educated, polyglot and reader, host and chef, and fan of the full gamut of St. Louis culture, he never stopped expanding his store of knowledge – especially through human connections, for he made a point of learning about each new person he met, and remembering their interests. Welcoming and humane even amid the usual struggles of academic life, he aimed to support and elevate all those who needed him.

George is survived by his wife Dr. Kathy Garcia, his daughter Rachel and son Anthony and their families, and an endless list of friends, colleagues, and students.


George's memorial service/remembrance will be held at 3:00pm on Friday, June 2 in Umrath Lounge.  

The obituary written by George's children can be found here

The university's story about George can be found here.