CARMEL – Alex A. Vardamis, born Sept. 10, 1934 in Bangor, died July 9, 2014.
Alex early developed a lifelong passion for the Boston Red Sox. He managed a youth baseball team and won a competitive appointment from Senator Margaret Chase Smith to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Thus: his first career. As a cadet he harbored flying squirrels, competed in intramural cross-country, was an intercollegiate debater and played the lead in a production of “Command Decision.” Upon graduation, with his new bride, Fran, he drove his sky blue ’57 Chevy convertible to his first assignment at Fort Bliss. At Nike sites at Palos Verdes and the Malibu Hills he guarded Los Angeles from Soviet attack. Between shifts, he studied literature and theater at Pierce College and performed in plays around the San Fernando Valley. Monterey’s Army Language School introduced him to German and to the Central Coast. A NATO soldier in Ingolstadt and Ulm, he picked up a Karmann Ghia, skied the Alps, and explored the southern, warmer tier of Europe. It was back to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for the Artillery Advanced Course, one of several military schools that would include the Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth and the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. He studied English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His doctoral dissertation was published as The Critical Reputation of Robinson Jeffers. Back at West Point, he taught, acquired a Ford Mustang, presided over the faculty drama society and produced and directed “Carousel” and “JB.” After a tour of duty in Vietnam, he returned to German assignments in liaison with the Germans, British and Dutch. For a brief sweet moment he cherished a reworked Mercedes 190SL. He commanded the University of Vermont, ROTC Program and taught classes for the English Department. A Research Fellowship at Harvard’s Center for Science and International Affairs preceded Norwegian language training in DC and Attaché duty in Oslo, Norway. He mastered nordic skiing and departed country with a silver factory-delivered Swedish Saab. Back at DLI, he studied Greek before another attaché tour in Athens. His final military assignment was as Director of European Studies at the Army War College. He retired with the rank of Colonel.
And then came his second career. He taught English at Dickinson State University in North Dakota and later at the University of Vermont, where he earned student accolades as “Teacher of the Year.” He taught community literature courses for the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the winter he skied Sugarbush. In the summer he played tennis and golf. He paddled his canoe. He picked up an Outback after the Saab drowned in a Winooski River flood during the Fulbright year he taught American Studies at the University of Stavanger in Norway. Homesick for the Central Coast, he began writing Dingus Dreaming, a comic novel featuring a literate dog who romps on Carmel Beach with Haig Jeffers. In a sequel, Dingus would join the Lewis and Clark expedition. His other academic, literary, and political essays appeared over the years in publications as diverse as Foreign Policy; Aussen Politik; The Journal of Medical Humanities; Spenser Studies; Jeffers Studies; the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Economist.
A third “retirement” meant a return to Carmel. He joined the Board of the Tor House Foundation, and became president in 2000. He was named “Carmel Citizen of the Year” in 2009. He lectured, he organized Fall Festivals, and in his spare time, he hiked in the Coast Range hills, traveled in Europe and North America, and drove his now-aging Subaru cross-county a half dozen times.
Failing health forced his final retirement in 2009. A soldier, a scholar, a diplomat, an actor, a writer, a loving brother, a beloved husband, and a caring father, he long resisted the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. The weekend before his passing, he proofed the latest edition of the Tor House Newsletter, and the morning before his death, he was at the post office mailing copies to Foundation members all over the world. He died quietly and unexpectedly. He left too soon.
Alex was preceded in death by his parents, Alex and Pauline Vardamis and siblings, Harry, George, and Sophie. He is survived by his wife, Fran, his daughter, Sharon (Marian) of Amherst, Mass., his son, Dan (Elaine) of Eldora, Colorado, his grandson, Joshua, and his sister, Helen (Will) of Hamden, Conn. His remains will be interred at West Point on Sept. 12. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, PO Box 2713, Carmel, CA 93921 or St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 90 Sanford St., Bangor, Maine 04401. Please visit www.thepaulmortuary.com to sign Alex’s guest book and leave messages for his family.