Robert C. Melzi, 96, Widener University language professor

Robert C. Melzi
Robert C. Melzi
Posted: March 05, 2012

Robert C. Melzi, 96, of Bala Cynwyd, professor emeritus of Romance languages at Widener University, died Thursday, March 1, at home.

Dr. Melzi was on the Widener faculty for 30 years and chaired the Romance language department in the 1970s. He also taught courses at the University of Pennsylvania, St. Joseph's University, Villanova University, and Bryn Mawr College.

In 1967, Dr. Melzi, an expert on Dante, wrote Castelvetro's Annotations to the 'Inferno': A New Perspective in Sixteenth Century Criticism.

After 11 years of work, in 1973 he published the Bantam New College Italian-English Dictionary. "Up until now," he told the Philadelphia Daily News, "the bilingual dictionary for the most part reflected the tastes, culture, and language of Great Britain."

After retiring from Widener in 1990, he taught part-time and wrote.

In his later years, Dr. Melzi researched and wrote about the treatment of Jews during the Italian Renaissance.

Born Italo Liebman, in Milan, Italy, Dr. Melzi graduated from the University of Padua and then served as an officer in the Italian Army. In the late 1930s, with Mussolini's government becoming increasingly anti-Semitic, he was stripped of his rank and forced to leave the military.

He moved to Belgium in 1938, and when that country was invaded, he and a cousin fled to Morocco. In 1942, he and his cousin emigrated to the United States and changed their names to Robert and Joe Melzi.

Dr. Melzi worked in Lake Placid and New York City, and later joined his cousin, who was operating a chicken farm in Sicklerville. He and his cousin sold the chickens at a store in West Philadelphia. A customer invited him home to dinner and he met her daughter, Marie D'Amico.

He and Marie married in 1948, and he sold chicken feed and then sold insurance. One of his clients was a University of Pennsylvania professor who learned of his academic background and his fluency in four languages, and encouraged him to return to school.

As a scholarship student at Penn, Dr. Melzi earned a master's degree and doctorate in Romance languages in 1966.

He taught for a year at Millersville State College before joining the faculty of the Pennsylvania Military Academy, now Widener University.

A world traveler, Dr. Melzi and his wife visited every capital in Europe and spent time in Italy every year, said a grandson, Andrew Kenis.

Dr. Melzi is survived by a son, Bob; a daughter, Marie; seven grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. His wife died in 2008 and a son, James, died in 2007.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 12:30 p.m. Monday, March 5, at St. Dorothy's Church, 4910 Township Line Rd. Drexel Hill. Friends may call from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at Ruffenach Funeral Home, 4900 Township Line Rd., Drexel Hill. Burial will be in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 399 Market St., Suite 102, Philadelphia 19106.

Contact Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or