To the Williams community,
It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that Nicole Desrosiers, who taught at the college for more than four decades, passed away on August 31.
Born on June 6, 1941, to German Jewish parents who had emigrated to Le Puy, France, Nicole grew up in Le Puy with her brothers Henri, Gaston, Marcel, and René. After completing her B.A. at the Université de Clermont-Ferrand in 1965 she spent a year at Mount Holyoke College on a Fulbright scholarship and then completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in French at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Nicole joined Williams in 1974, teaching French and art history to undergraduate and graduate students at the college and the Clark Art Institute. “She brought originality and dedication to her early morning classroom teaching, to be sure,” says Marc Gotlieb, director of the Graduate Program in Art History and Class of 1955 Memorial Professor of Art. “But even more she brought care and pleasure to the classroom and beyond, year in and year out, as the program evolved, in a manner that shaped the experience of hundreds of students.”
“Nicole visited one of my classes in 2013 and spoke of her family’s experiences in France during and after World War II,” recalls Soledad Fox, professor of Spanish and comparative literature. “She addressed this very private and dramatic subject with grace and eloquence. For the students, and for me, it was like having French history come to life before our eyes.”
A master teacher who mentored both students and younger colleagues, Nicole taught courses on French theater, art history and Albert Camus. “She was passionate about teaching and extraordinarily committed and generous to her students, sometimes offering to tutor those in need beyond the completion of the course,” says Mark Haxthausen, Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History, Emeritus. Nicole was also a committed scholar whose numerous publications included a new book on Camus that came out just last year.
“Having survived the Holocaust and a lifetime of challenges as a teacher, scholar, and pioneering woman in academia, Nicole was passionate about Albert Camus and his philosophical insistence on joy amid suffering,” says Brian Martin, professor of French and comparative literature. “In her course description for French 300 Albert Camus and the Philosophy of Living (Fall 2018) and in her recent book Albert Camus parmi les hommes, she spoke eloquently about the profound human need for kinship amid injustice, and fraternal support amid suffering. This exemplified Nicole’s life, and her dedication to literature and art, students and colleagues, family and friends.”
Strongly committed to supporting her fellow language teachers at the college and high school levels, Nicole was an active member of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, president of the Western Massachusetts chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French, and a co-founder of the Foreign Academic Alliance in Berkshire County, now known as the Berkshire Organization of Language Teachers.
Nicole will also be remembered fondly by many for her elegance and style, and for the pleasure she took in sharing meals, advice, surprise gifts, and animated conversation with her students, colleagues and friends. “In our many conversations about teaching and literature, she was both an inspiration and a warm mentor to me,” says Katarzyna Pieprzak, associate dean of the faculty and professor of Francophone literature, French language, and comparative literature. “She was a strong and remarkable woman until the very end.”
Nicole was predeceased by her husband Paul Desrosiers, who passed away last April, and by her brother René. She is survived by her son David, his wife Wheatly, and their daughter Lulzime; and her son Daniel, his wife Bridget, and their daughters Camille and Patrice.
The family is planning a memorial and celebration of Nicole’s life for Sunday, September 23, at 1 p.m., at the Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort, in Lenox.
Our thoughts are with Nicole’s family, colleagues, and many friends.
Maud S. Mandel
Professor of History; Program in Jewish Studies