Richard L. Elia of Winchester, one of the longest-tenured professors at Salem State College and the founder and publisher of the widely read and highly regarded Quarterly Review of Wines, died Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, at age 75.
The son of Albanian immigrants who settled in Boston in the 1930s and opened a restaurant in the city’s South End, Elia was born on June 30, 1941, and grew up in the Fields Corner section of Dorchester. He graduated from English High School in 1960, where he was class secretary-treasurer, played hockey and football and was sports editor of the campus magazine. The Record. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Providence College in 1964, his master’s from Northeastern University in 1965 and his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in 1973. On Oct. 18, 1969, he married Harley MacKenzie, his wife of 47 years, who survives him.
Elia taught at Northeastern University for four years before joining the faculty at Salem State in 1969. He taught there for 47 years, rising to the rank of full professor in 1985. He taught four generations of students to write essays, interpret the Great Books and savor the joys of literature – especially Victorian writers such as Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and Henry James. He became one of Salem State’s most popular and longest-serving professors and, by the end of his career, his years of service had won him an honor he cherished: leading the school’s faculty into graduation exercises as its mace-bearer.
“Dr. Elia is, hands down, one of the BEST professors at SSU,” wrote one online review. “He's hilarious, massively intelligent, wonderfully sarcastic, passionate about his subject, and really cares about his students.”
A passion for wine and a hunger to learn about it led him to found the Quarterly Review of Wines in 1977. Under his and Harley’s leadership, it grew from a newsletter into a full-color magazine with a circulation of nearly 175,000 before it suspended print publication in November 2011. It boasted subscribers around the world and writers internationally recognized for their expertise. It won praise for its five-star scale for grading vintages, its “Best of the Best” editions devoted to recommendations and its plain talk in an industry eager to romance an affluent audience.
“There’s too much humbug about wine. Open it and drink,” Elia told an interviewer in 2008. “That was the advice Phillipe de Rothschild gave me when I interviewed him years ago. It’s still true.”
Elia was active in charitable events, most notably with public television station WGBH’s annual wine auction. He rose to the position of its chairman and, working alongside people such as the chef Julia Child, created three auctions for the station, including one for rare and fine wines. He also staged tastings and wine dinners for organizations such as libraries and hospitals in Winchester, Boston and other communities.
Elia was the son of Basil and Georgia Elia. Besides his wife Harley, he is survived by his brother, Thomas of Milton, and his sisters Barbara McGonagle of Milton and Lorraine Rule of Marshfield, and eight nephews and nieces, all of whom knew him as a loving, generous man who urged them to hold themselves to the highest of expectations.
A viewing will take place from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Lane Funeral Home at 760 Main St. in Winchester. Interment will be in Wildwood Cemetery in Winchester.