Toni Giamatti DRA ’60 was an actress, a mother, and the wife to former Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti. But what she is perhaps best remembered for is her passion in the classroom during her tenure of more than 20 years at the Hopkins School in New Haven.
She died on Saturday, and a private funeral was held for her, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.
“Mrs. Giamatti had a passion for literature, which she so beautifully communicated to her many students at Hopkins — students who remained under her wise guidance even beyond their college years,” Regina Starolis, executive assistant to the president, said in an e-mail. Starolis, who said she was a personal friend of Giamatti, has worked in the office of the Yale president since before Giamatti’s husband assumed his post there.
Friends said Toni Giamatti was committed to her husband’s career at Yale, where he served as master of Ezra Stiles College before he was appointed president. After he left the University, he served as commissioner of Major League Baseball. He died in 1989.
In the course of her husband’s employment at the University, Giamatti was very supportive, the “foremost first lady of Yale,” Timothy Dwight Master Robert Thompson said in an e-mail.
“I remember her graciousness, her charm, her interest in what we were doing and what we ideally hoped yet to do,” he said.
Former coworkers and former students alike miss her memorable teaching at the Hopkins School, Head of School Barbara Riley said.
“She was best known for the way she would bring literature, theater, history, the media — especially journalism — and politics into the classroom,” Riley said. “She was well-liked, opinionated, broadly educated, with a straightforward manner that had so much appeal to it.”
Riley recounted the words of a former student who, on hearing of Giamatti’s death, said she was the teacher she will remember most throughout her education, as the student felt her classes were almost more about life than about what the class was reading.
Giamatti’s teaching communicated not just information, but also love, Directed Studies professor Jane Levin, the mother of three of Giamatti’s former students, said in an e-mail.
“Toni loved literature,” Levin said. “While teaching her students how to read a work of literature and how to write a five-page essay, she was also showing them this love.”
In the classroom and beyond, a passion for the arts and literature was present in nearly all Giamatti did, from raising her children to performing Shakespeare in her classroom.
“She was a force in bringing culture to Yale and the New Haven community,” Thompson said.
She is survived by three children: two sons, Marcus and Paul, and a daughter, Elena Giamatti-Rossman.