Paul O'Grady (1933-2004)

Günter Bischof, May 2005

An expert in European intellectual history, Paul O'Grady died on December 25, 2004, in Hollywood, California, at the age of 71. O'Grady had been incapacitated from multiple strokes and cardiovascular problems. Paul O'Grady left his principal marks as an old-fashioned "generalist"—a consummate teacher at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania and at the Webster University of St. Louis overseas campus in Vienna, Austria. He first lived in Vienna on a sabbatical in 1975–76 and returned to stay in this slower-paced metropolis he loved so much for the next 20 years, starting in 1978. He always looked at Vienna from a Freudian perspective.

O'Grady was born in New York City on May 30, 1933. After graduating from the Pennington Prep School, he served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1957 and was stationed in Japan for a year. From 1958 to 1963 he studied European history and philosophy at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and graduated with BA and MA degrees. At Trinity he developed his lifelong passion for the fine points of philosophical disputes among Catholic medieval theologians and his interest in Henry VIII and his conflicts with the Catholic Church. He knew his Augustine and Thomas Aquinas well.

While he worked on his PhD at the University of Delaware, O'Grady taught European history at West Chester University from 1967 to 1978. He took his PhD in 1974 with a dissertation on "The Dilemma of Henrician Catholicism," which he published years later as Henry VIII and the Conforming Catholics (1990).

In 1978, O'Grady moved to Vienna and worked with the Austrian political scientist Walter Simon on a project about language conflicts in the late Habsburg Monarchy, working his way through numerous volumes of parliamentary debates. During those years he made a living (sometimes marginal) lecturing in various academic and administrative conferences, Fulbright seminars, and U.S. embassy events. He tutored in English and acted as a free-wheeling mentor, extremely generous with his time and advice, to numerous local students (this one included). In the 1980s O'Grady also regularly taught European history for the University of New Orleans International Summer School in Innsbruck and conducted field trips.

From 1982 to 1996 he taught a wide variety of courses in history, political science, and international relations as an adjunct professor in the fledgling Webster University Vienna program. From 1983 to 1986 he acted as graduate advisor. In 1986 he also taught as an exchange professor for a semester at Webster's home campus in St. Louis. O'Grady's greatest influence as a teacher and mentor came at Webster, where he taught hundreds of Austrian and Eastern European students. Those students honored him twice with the "teacher of the year" award. Webster is now firmly established in Vienna as the leading private university thus adding to a trend in "Americanization"—in this case privatization—of higher education in Austria. His talents as a teacher were a major draw for Webster. His keen comparative analytical skills also familiarized and infused numerous students, who had lived under communism, with a generous and open-minded American spirit in Cold War Vienna, next door to the iron curtain. He traveled to Eastern Europe regularly to see the follies of Communism for himself.

O'Grady's mind was idiosyncratic and eclectic. It surely was his passion for medieval theological disputes that also made him an expert in some of the arcana of Marxist "theology." The three volumes of Lezek Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxist Thought in his large personal library in Vienna were well worn. Fittingly, he published essays on both Thomas Morus and Stalin in the Catholic weekly Die Furche. He loved the poetry of W. H. Auden, like O'Grady another Catholic expatriate drawn to the gentle Lower Austrian countryside with its rich treasure of Baroque monasteries and churches. Paul O'Grady also contributed chapters on Vienna's cultural history to an English language guide to the city.

Paul O'Grady's saucy Irish wit and passion for the city was a mainstay for the Anglo-American expatriate community in the Danube metropolis. Over white wine spritzers, O'Grady would make them laugh with his vast store of Irish limericks and regale them with his keen insights on the "Austrian mind" in many a Heurigen evening in the vineyards on Vienna's outskirts. He lived in Vienna because his ambition never was to partake in the "publish or perish" rat race of American academe. Although he was a beautiful writer and a wonderful editor, he will not be remembered for long lists of publications. His legacy will be that of a generous spirit who delighted hundreds of students with polished lectures on the fine points of Western thought and culture and who mentored whoever was willing to engage him. He had the rare gift for a professor of giving as much time to his students as they wanted. He never kept office hours—his door was always open.

— Günter Bischof
University of New Orleans