Ruth Holmes Cordahi with Tony at the home of Bill and Carolyn Pollock, 2013
Tony passed away overnight (25 September 2019) after being taken to hospital. I feel so fortunate that Sherri and I decided to visit Tony in Aiken, SC on Sunday and again on Monday morning this week before continuing on to Savannah for a Navy ship reunion.
Tony was remarkably cogent and his body failed while his mind prevailed. He was 87. We chatted in English on Sunday, in French on Monday. He seemed so relaxed and happy to do so with a crisp memory of people and events.
Thanks to Bob and Donna Kraft for helping with our visit, and to Naomi and Nathan for caretaking.
Tony will forever be part of my heritage.
View the Antoine Nicolas Cordahi obituary HERE
Please share your memories in the comment section below.
Antoine Nicolas Cordahi Ruth Holmes Cordahi
(March 02, 1932 – September 25, 2019) (March 05, 1933 – July 2, 2018)
AIKEN – After more than fifty years of marriage, Ruth Holmes Cordahi (March 5, 1933 – July 2, 2018) and Antoine Nicolas Cordahi (March 2, 1932 – September 25, 2019) Rest in Peace. Though they met while teaching halfway around the world, it was Aiken where they rooted their last, forty years.
Ruth was born from Scandinavian parents in Minnesota, though the family moved several times with the teaching career of her father, eventually settling in Eureka, California. There, Ruth completed high school and then went on to Humbolt State where she earned her BA and MA in Education, taught in inner-city, public schools in Los Angeles, and spent summers in non-degree courses at UCLA in philosophy, psychiatry, and the arts. Her three aunts loved showing Ruth around their city, Los Angeles, and so Ruth, too, would travel back home in order to take trips and share with her sister and nieces. However, Ruth wanted more and so, though she was raised Lutheran, jumped at the opportunity offered through the Presbyterian Church to teach in Egypt – first at the American College for Girls in Cairo and, later, at the Schutz American School in Alexandria.
Antoine was Lebanese and born into one of the oldest, aristocratic families in Alexandria, Egypt. At an early age, he demonstrated extraordinary musical talent as a pianist. Beginning his musical education at Collège Saint Marc, Cordahi was taught successively by brilliant music pedagogues such as Ettore Cordone, Maestro di Cappella to the court of King Vittorio Emmanuele, Piero Guarino, and Fritz Rosati, and the concert pianist, Mme. Psaltis. He made his conducting debut at 16 with the Alexandria Youth Symphony and his solo, piano debut at 21 playing Beethoven’s C Major Piano Concerto with the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Further, he received dual coaching in collaborative piano and voice pedagogy from Mme. Dalimis, and completed his exams at the Alexandria Music Conservatory. Mr. Cordahi also started studies at the Conservatoire de Paris with Francis Poulenc, before developing tuberculosis and needing to return home. During his miraculous recuperation, it was clear that his country had been turned upside down with the deposition of the King and Antoine was forced to make the best of a closed-off country by forsaking his solo piano career and taking up musical direction for U.S. Information Services, and choral directing and vocal coaching for the Schutz American School.
And so, Ruth the adventurous American-teaching-English met Antoine the passionate, Alexandrian pianist-teaching-music. Over the next years of their courtship, their mutual admiration and devotion to students sealed their love. However, as the social and political climate of Egypt kept deteriorating, they decided to make a new start in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Antoine was invited to teach French at the prestigious Shadyside Academy, while Ruth became a special assistant to the Chancellor of Carnegie Mellon University. They married in 1968.
Though each had great satisfaction in their work and a home in each other, Antoine still longed to continue his piano studies. When Antoine found his last and greatest mentor in Lytle Powell at Oklahoma University, Ruth followed. While Antoine was busy with graduate studies, Ruth heeded Antoine’s advice, found open arms in the faculty, and plunged into study herself, which culminated in a Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Psychology and her thesis – The Interpersonal Needs of Learning Disabled Children. During this time, they also met their lifelong friend, artist Marta Whistler, whose powerful, visual art from then on filled their homes. After graduation, Ruth was the first to receive a substantial job offer – as Chair of the Department of Education at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. And so, Antoine followed her and in 1975 they came to the South.
Ruth planned and implemented eight Baccalaureate Teacher Education course programs and her commitment to differently-abled students, which began much earlier with her devotion to her clients as a Social Worker in inner-city Los Angeles, New York City, Pittsburgh and Norman, led to her pivotal involvement in the expansion of the Tri-Development Center and the founding of the Best Buddies program at USC-A. She excelled at strategic advocacy for aspiring education students and dearly encouraged international study.
Having unlocked his artistic voice on piano with Lytle Powell, Antoine’s passion for singing and vocal pedagogy grew. He was hired by St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church as Music Director (later founding the Schola Cantorum with Dr. Thomas Jackson) and his pay was freedom to live in a large, old house just over the railroad tracks, which the church owned. This became Ruth and Antoine’s first home in Aiken. Soon, he was teaching French at St. Mary’s Parochial School, directing it’s Youth Choir, teaching voice and piano from home, and at USC-A, where he founded the USC-A Concert Choir. His extraordinary partnership with accompanist Betty Groh led to the expansion of the Aiken Choral Society repertoire where he became director and founded of the Aiken Chamber Singers (who performed by invitation for more than twenty consecutive years at the Piccolo Spoleto International Festival).
Ruth was an enthusiastic champion of all of Antoine’s work in music, which included singing soprano in his choruses, attending all concerts and recitals, years of grant writing and research for his choral groups, coordinating the popular, annual Tour of Homes for the Aiken Choral Society, and educational and professional guidance for his students.
Together they filled their humble home with extraordinary art and antiques—welcoming students, musicians and colleagues alike to spend time and share meals. Even towards the end as both struggled with illness, they never lost interest in art, music, literature, fine food and drink. They leave behind many who were most fortunate to have known them or been shaped by their work. We miss them greatly and thank them.
A Memorial Mass to honor both will take place on November 16th, 2019 at 11 A.M. at Old St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church at 203 Park Ave. SE in downtown Aiken. Gifts in their memory may be made to the Tri-Development Center of Aiken County or St. Mary’s Traditional Choir Harpsichord & Music Fund.
SHELLHOUSE FUNERAL HOME, INC., 924 HAYNE AVE., AIKEN, SC 29801