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Not a Moment Wasted

John Varriano and Wendy Watson

John Varriano, Jr. (AB '65, MA '66, PhD '70) arrived in Ann Arbor in the early 1960s, a doctor's son with aspirations of becoming a writer. He majored in English, made friends with faculty in the Department of Art History, and dabbled in architecture for good measure-a true Renaissance man.

He later found his lifelong passion- the art and architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque periods- thanks to the spell-binding lectures of Professor Nathan T. Whitman.

As a Ph.D. student, John's dissertation took him to the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome, sponsored by a Kress Foundation grant. From there, he traveled to Vienna, Paris, and across Italy to experience the places and works of art that would prove seminal to his life's work.

With a smile, Wendy recounts that a Kress Foundation representative once observed, "Mr. Varriano seems to be doing a lot of traveling. We hope it won't impede his dissertation." But despite an obvious affinity for wandering, John was far from lost. He simply embodied that Renaissance ideal of graceful nonchalance-sprezzatura-described in Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier. True to form, John finished his dissertation in record time.

He returned to the U.S. to accept a position at Mount Holyoke College, where he was named the Idella Plimpton Kendall Professor of Art History, a professorship named for the college's first student to officially study abroad. In four decades of service to the college, John was known for encouraging his students to seize every opportunity to travel.

In the closing chapters of a storied life, he fought a five-year-long battle with an acute blood disease, a battle that he undertook with characteristic vigor and panache. He passed away in early 2016, following one last trip abroad with Wendy.

In his memory comes a planned gift to support the same kind of vibrant experiences that shaped his life, work, and education.

In the Department of Art History, the John L. Varriano Jr. Fund will provide for travel and research abroad, with special preference for graduate students interested in Italy. "He really wanted to make sure that people would just go. He wanted to not only make it possible for them, but also irresistible," Wendy says.

"John would always say, 'Don't waste time. Don't waste time.' People should be encouraged to do just that. A lot of people wait to write their wills, but it's so much better to do it early," Wendy says. "Having good people on the university's end is critical," she adds. In that regard, she awards U-M the top prize. "Michigan made this process perfectly easy and smooth."

John believed (along with Giorgio Armani) that "Elegance is not about being noticed; it's about being remembered." For years to come, U-M students abroad will remember John as a man of the world-and one who didn't waste a moment in it.

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