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Nicholas Fersen

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POWNAL -- Nicholas Fersen, professor emeritus at Williams College, died quietly here on Dec. 13, 2005, of natural causes at the age of 85. His wife of 50 years, Nina Fersen, and his son, Paul, were at his side. Fersen was a Pownal resident for almost 40 years.

Nicholas Fersen was born in Rome, Italy, the son of Baroness Maria Stael von Holstein and Count Paul Fersen, who emigrated from Russia after the Revolution and settled in Rome. He was educated as a child by his governess, attended the French Chateaubriand School in Rome and the University of Rome, where he studied biochemistry until World War II. His early education and the cultural environment of his home at Villa Sforza influenced him greatly in his love of art, music and literature and enabled Fersen to become fluent in English, Russian, Italian and French. As a young man he spent much of his time in the Italian Alps, where he was an avid rock climber and mountaineer. He conquered many of the most challenging peaks in the Alps and loved the outdoors all his life.

After the war, he married an American Army Red Cross volunteer and came to the United States where he lived in Atlanta for eight years and had a son. In the mid-1950s, the Russian space program caused the American government to search out individuals to help the American program keep pace. With his fluency in Russian and English and his background in biochemistry, Fersen was recruited to teach at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It was there he met his present wife, Nina, and embarked on a long and illustrious teaching career. After Georgetown he was offered a position to teach at Middlebury College and then in 1960 moved to Williams College, where he taught until his retirement in 1988.

At Williams, Fersen taught Russian language, literature and history and for a time was the head of the German/Russian department. He was universally loved by his students for his animated and passionate teaching style and his extraordinary intellect. He loved the theater and was active in the Williams Theater and the Oldcastle Theater Company in Bennington. His play “Lovequilt” debuted at Oldcastle and Fersen and his wife were always ardent supporters of the arts in the area. They traveled extensively together over the years searching out pieces of the Fersen family history and revisiting his childhood homes in Rome and the Alps. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he returned to Estonia to find his family’s estate, “Olustverre,” intact and now an agricultural school.

His love of the outdoors never waned and Fersen hiked and skied the Berkshires constantly. He could be seen daily on the slopes of Brodie Mountain after class and was instantly recognizable for his grace and elegant skiing style. He became a licensed glider pilot and flew for a number of years in North Adams and in celebration of his 60th birthday, he parachuted out of a plane.

Literature was at the center of Fersen’s life and he wrote constantly. He published two novels, “Tombolo,” a novel of post-war Italy, and “Corridor of Honor,” the tragic story of Vlasov’s doomed Russian army in World War II. He wrote a weekly column for the Bennington Banner for years, and during the last years of his life, despite failing eyesight, worked constantly on a memoir of the Fersen family and how they fit into the events of European history.

Nicholas Fersen is survived by his wife, Nina; his son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Mary; his three grandchildren, Nicholas, Elizabeth and Cooper; his first cousins, Sofka Bovio nee’ Fersen of Feltre and Maria Fersen of Rome, Italy.

Private burial services will take place in the Williams College Cemetery. A public memorial service will take place at a later date and will be announced at that time.

Memorial gifts may be made in Nicholas Fersen’s memory to Second Chance Animal Shelter in Shaftsbury or the Oldcastle Theater in Bennington in care of the Hanson-Walbridge Funeral Home, 213 West Main St., Bennington, VT 05201.

To send condolences to the family of Nicholas Fersen, visit www.sheafuneralhomes.com.
Published in Bennington Banner from Dec. 15 to Dec. 16, 2005
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