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Shining a light on a piece of Queen’s history

  • Principal Daniel Woolf stands alongside Mati Bernabei and Gina Jack after unveiling a new plaque on the statue of Venus that was brought into the University Club 38 years ago by their father, former Classics professor Richard Bernabei.
    Principal Daniel Woolf stands alongside Mati Bernabei and Gina Jack after unveiling a new plaque on the statue of Venus that was brought into the University Club 38 years ago by their father, former Classics professor Richard Bernabei.
  • Mati Bernabei speaks at a special event honouring her father, former Classics professor Richard Bernabei, hosted at the University Club.
    Mati Bernabei speaks at a special event honouring her father, former Classics professor Richard Bernabei, hosted at the University Club.
  • Principal Daniel Woolf speaks to Mati Bernabei and Gina Jack during a special event honouring their father, former Classics professor Richard Bernabei, who once taught the principal at Queen's.
    Principal Daniel Woolf speaks to Mati Bernabei and Gina Jack during a special event honouring their father, former Classics professor Richard Bernabei, who once taught the principal at Queen's.
  • Barbara Reeves (Classics) points out some details in a poster highlighting the replicas within the Department of Classics to two attendees of an event honouring former Classics professor Richard Bernabei.
    Barbara Reeves (Classics) points out some details in a poster highlighting the replicas within the Department of Classics to two attendees of an event honouring former Classics professor Richard Bernabei.

The history of Queen’s is long and colourful and because of this, unfortunately, some of the personalities that are part of that 175-year story have been forgotten.

Recently, the Department of Classics and the University Club honoured a past professor and shone a light on one of his contributions during his time at Queen’s with a special event hosted by the University Club.

[Queen's 175]Richard Bernabei was a Classics professor at Queen’s from 1965-78, and during that time he had an impact on many of his colleagues, as well as students, including current Principal Daniel Woolf, who spoke at the event.

Organized by Barbara Reeves (Classics), an associate professor and coordinator of Queen’s Classics at 175, the event was aimed at remembering Dr. Bernabei’s contributions inside and outside the lecture hall, including a Venus de Milo statue that he “smuggled” into the University Club in 1979 that has become a fixture of the building.

At the event a plaque was unveiled for the statue.  

“Dr. Bernabei impacted a lot of students, including Principal Woolf. He donated this statue which has been admired for the past 38 years by people at the University Club, not necessarily knowing about him but they have benefitted from it, and yet we don’t know him,” Dr. Reeves says, adding that she felt it was important to provide some recognition.

The event attracted a wide range of Queen’s community members including former colleagues, friends and Dr. Bernabei’s daughters – Mati Bernabei and Gina Jack.

“There were people from all across campus, and that was wonderful,” Dr. Reeves says. “It was not a departmental function. There were people from everywhere who were interested in the statue, who were interested in Queen’s history.”

The wording on the plaque matches a request written in a letter 25 years ago by Dr. Bernabei’s ex-wife Wilma, who was a long-time Queen’s employee, as well as the university’s first employment equity officer. 

With the statue being a part of their history, the University Club paid for the plaque and the reception and helped promote the event.

It was also a special event for Dr. Bernabei’s daughters providing an opportunity to reconnect with Queen’s and to tell their family’s story.

“The reception in honour of our father was deeply moving for us,” says Mati Bernabei. “He was still a young man when he died, and my sister and I were just teenagers. The circumstances of his death were difficult – grief weighed heavily at the time. But now, 38 years later, this event provided my sister and I, and our father’s friends and former students, an opportunity to celebrate his life, his art, and his passion for teaching.”

“I have no doubt that he would be absolutely delighted that it was Venus who brought us all together,” says Gina Jack. “When he brought her to the University Club he was extremely ill – nonetheless, he hatched a plan, and snuck his beloved Venus into her rightful home. The reception, and the plaque, honouring her, and establishing her place officially as a permanent resident of the club, was the perfect way to honour our father.”