Joe Rago, A Generous and Loving Friend – By Nicholas Desai

By Nicholas Desai

Strange as it may sound, I never knew, until I met Joe, that articles on important subjects didn’t have to be earnest, plodding, and pious; that erudition and fun were not only not enemies but were even long lost brothers; or even that it was possible to thumb your nose at authority and simply prevail through sheer quality, and do it all cheerfully with a packed Skoal lip. But all these truths, which I had to learn from Joe’s example, Joe knew already by instinct, because Joe had inborn genius.

Watching him work was uncanny, a Glenn Gould experience. After some nicotine-enhanced journey to the end of the night that would have robbed other mortals of their literacy, he’d produce squeaky-clean copy that left you reaching for your Italian phrasebook: virtuoso, sprezzatura, bellissimo. That within months of graduation he would assume the position of one-man prose provider for one of the leading newspapers in the world seemed entirely natural. Yet the man was barely out of his teens, a long-limbed youth twinkling at you through little glasses.

Less celebrated in public but just as admired in private was the Rago who could make Falstaff look like Malvolio. “Convivial” doesn’t cut it—try “Stakhanovite.” But he went all out (a favorite mot) not from some repulsion from the world but, on the contrary, out of love for his friends and for his college. His life and prose were of a piece because both were marked by an easy largesse that was never sentimental. Around him, it was always carnival, always quintessentially college, and nobody displayed more devotion to the spiritual, Platonic, old Dartmouth than Joe Rago, a generous and brilliant friend I’ll always remember and pray for.