Dr. Helen Damico (nee Pittas) journeyed from Chios, Greece to America with her mother when she was six years old. She could not imagine the tremendous impact that journey would ultimately have on the lives of so many family members, friends, and students, nor that she would become an internationally renowned scholar.
Helen peacefully passed away on April 14, 2020, at the age of 89, at Ohio Living at Rockynol in Akron, Ohio. Helen was born on January 30, 1931, in Chios, Greece. She was preceded in death by her parents, Frank and Ifigenia Pittas.
Helen obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Iowa and, following her love of literature, earned her Master’s and Doctoral Degrees from New York University specializing in Old English and Medieval Studies. Helen taught English at Brooklyn College and the University of Minnesota. In 1981, she became a Professor of English in Medieval Language and Literature at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she attained full professorship status and taught for 31 years. She was twice recognized as UNM’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year and honored as a UNM teaching fellow. Her first published work, Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition is recognized as a work which made a substantial contribution to the study of women in the field. Among her many academic publications, she edited the three volumes of Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Essays in the Formation of a Discipline and most recently authored Beowulf and the Grendel-Kin: Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England. Among her many achievements and contributions, Helen received the New Mexico Humanities Award for Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities and was a recipient of The Medieval Academy of America’s CARA Award for Outstanding Service to Medieval Studies. She was an Honorary Member of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists and a Fellow of The Medieval Academy of America.
In 1986, Helen founded UNM’s internationally recognized Institute for Medieval Studies, and served as its director until 2002. She worked tirelessly to engage the greater community to participate in the Institute, most particularly secondary schools, to foster their appreciation for medieval history, literature and culture. She developed an annual Speaker’s Series, where scholars from all over the world would journey to New Mexico to lecture. Helen’s students have described her as “a force to be reckoned with” as she set high standards and always pushed them to achieve their fullest potential.
Helen is survived by her beloved family: sister, Kathryn Belfance; nieces and nephew, Leslie Belfance (Carla), Eve Belfance (Christopher) and Mark Belfance (Marna); her great nieces and nephews, Christopher Belfance, David Belfance, Katie Belfance, Anna Belfance, William Belfance Colford and Sophia Belfance Colford; cousin, Virginia Benjamin (Jesse), as well as other cousins and relatives from Greece; and many beloved friends.
Helen had unparalleled energy and continued to engage in scholarship while teaching beyond her eightieth year. Her latest book was published in 2015. As a dedicated scholar, Helen traveled throughout her life, visiting many countries and making many friends along the way. She was especially devoted to her relatives in Chios. Helen was very devoted to her faith and formed lasting relationships with her church community. She had a life well lived, and will be greatly missed.
The family would like to thank Ohio Living Rockynol for the excellent care and compassion they have shown throughout this difficult time.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Institute for Medieval Studies, MSC06 3620, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87131(https://www.unmfund.org/fund/ medieval-studies-program-fund/ )or to the Frank and Ifigenia Pittas Memorial Scholarship Fund which Helen established to support women pursuing graduate-level theological studies, c/o Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 129 S. Union St., Akron Ohio 44304.
A graveside service will be held 1:00 p.m. EST SATURDAY April 25 at Chestnut Hill Memorial Park, with Rev. Fr. Nick Manuel officiating. The service will be live streamed to the Billow Facebook page, www.facebook.com/BillowFuneralHomes.
Services in care of the Billow Funeral Homes & Crematory, 85 N Miller Road, Akron, Ohio 44333.
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