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CORTESI ROGER SPENCER CORTESI Roger Spencer Cortesi of Washington DC passed away July 7, 2020 at the age of 85 after a long period of failing health. His wife of 45 years Deborah Shapley was at his side. In addition to his wife, he leaves two daughters from his first marriage (to Wendy Makins): Tina (Elisabetta) Cortesi (m. Michael J. Cima) and Isabella Cortesi. He is also survived by his and Deborah's son Roger (m. Jen Cortesi) and daughter Kate (m. Benjamin Wheeler) and seven grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister Katherine Cortesi Armstrong of Boston, MA. His younger brothers Henry Cortesi and Alexander Cortesi, both of New York City, died in 2015 and 2020 respectively. Roger was raised in New York City and attended Milton Academy. He graduated from Harvard University in 1956 with a BA in Mathematics. He earned a PhD in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1961. He spent most of his career at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in positions of responsibility. These included: Director, Criteria and Special Standards Division; Deputy Director, Office of Health Research and Director, Office of Exploratory Research. From 1999 to 2009 he headed the Quality Program of the Office of Research and Development, earning a Special Achievement Award for leadership and guidance. A colleague recalled: "His leadership reflected a deep understanding of how government organizations, systems and people can overcome challenges." All told he spent almost 40 years in the service of his country His lifelong passion for math and science was accompanied by an impressive memory for verse and song. His wide-ranging curiosity meant that the entire Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica were kept close at hand and frequently consulted in the days before electronic searches. The New York Times crossword puzzle was a daily ritual. It rewarded his prodigious knowledge and sent him diving in the dictionary for any of the few words he did not know already. Roger also loved opera, sailing, New York City, and the Brooklyn Dodgers - until they left Brooklyn. He learned tennis during summers at the Spencer home in Narragansett, RI, and played tennis for the rest of his active life. He took up squash when he arrived at Harvard in 1952. He helped the squash team's four-year winning streak and earned varsity letters in his junior and senior years. He was Metropolitan Club Squash Champion in 1976. When not playing sports his preferred attire was a suit and bow tie, even when doting on small grandchildren. His many lifelong friends and large extended family will miss him a lot. His burial will be private at Oak Hill Cemetery. The family is sharing memories via photos at rogercortesisr on Instagram.The family is sharing memories via photos at rogercortesisr on Instagram.

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Published in The Washington Post on Jul. 31, 2020.
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8 entries
August 24, 2020
I will miss him profoundly
Andrew Hamilton
August 1, 2020
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Carlotta Hester
July 31, 2020
Dr. Roger Cortesi was one of the most erudite and witty individuals I have ever met. He was a font of information on a broad array of topics. For about 10 years our offices were across the hall from one another and it was in these years that I got to know him best although we had known each other for many years. In his latter years at EPA he was the final reviewer of proposed research studies to ensure they were meeting the high ethical standards of the law. On the rare occasion when he came across a biological term he hadn't heard of (his PhD was in physics) he would first check his Oxford English Dictionary which he kept on a pedestal in his office and if he still wasn't sure what was meant he would seek me out. What would follow would be lengthy discussion of this term and his trying to see the connection between the new term with another one. He was a fanatic about English words and terms. The first thing Roger would do in the morning is to read the NY Times. He would come into my office fill me on the highlights. Then he would do its crossword puzzle. He was often seen solving the puzzle while attending meetings and his ability to follow along with the discussions at the meeting while solving the puzzle never ceased to amaze me. He was a wizard at multitasking. I had been used to doing crossword puzzles in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post for many years but was intimidated by those in the NYT. He started making copies of the unsolved puzzle for me each day and would check to see how I was doing while I was eating my lunch at my desk and doing the puzzle. He shared his tips and it got to be that I was soon mastering the NYT puzzles from Monday-Thursday. I still struggled with Fridays' and would never think to attempt a Sunday one. On Mondays he sometimes would bring in a copy of the Saturday puzzle so I could see the solution to Fridays' to learn from it. I wish I can tell him now that I am finally somewhat proficient enough to complete a Sunday NYT puzzle - it may take me a week to slowly work on it and it may take 1-2 peaks through Google. Although I haven't seen Roger in over 9 years since I moved away to NJ, every time I do a crossword puzzle I think of him. When Roger found out I had a PhD in Anatomy he got so excited. He told me he had a collection of anatomical drawings that he thought I might be interested in seeing. One day he came into my office with a gigantic book and it was a book of Andreas Vesalius' anatomical drawings from the 1500s. He said he was glad he could finally show this to someone who would really appreciate it - and he was right! I hadn't seen many of the detailed sketches that the father of anatomy had done. I was humbled and in awe. I wonder what Roger would think if he knew that after a 33 year hiatus from anatomy that I am back teaching and appreciating it once again. One year, I offered to treat Roger to lunch on his birthday. We went to a local Italian restaurant that he liked and that I had always wanted to go to. From then on he thought it be good to go out to lunch on a "quarterly" basis - spoken like a bureaucrat. He would mark these in his little calendar and then come to me a few weeks in advance and remind me that it was time for a joint lunch. We would go to different local restaurants until we went to another Italian restaurant called Finemondo one day. From then on, that was where he wanted to go. So it was quite fitting that when I got tasked to organize his retirement event that we held it there. Sadly, I lost touch with Roger after I moved - I had an email address but it wasn't correct. I'm sorry to hear that his health was failing for a long time. I think of him fondly and all he taught me. He loved his wife Deborah and his children and grandchildren and spoke of them lovingly often. This picture of him is quite fitting because he always sported a bow tie. I will remember him this way. Rest in peace, my friend.
Elaine Francis
July 31, 2020
Karen McClure
July 31, 2020
Karen Hawthorne Graham
July 31, 2020
N. Persaud
July 31, 2020
Cheryl Wasserman
July 31, 2020
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