Monica Potkay, an English professor at the College of William and Mary who also served as the assistant dean of academic advising and undergraduate education, died Friday, April 6, in hospice care. She was 60 years old.
Potkay had worked at the College since 1989. Her death was confirmed by English department chair Suzanne Raitt in an email sent to English majors and minors April 7. The cause of Potkay’s death was bile duct cancer.
She began teaching at the College as Monica Brzezinski. She specialized in Old English, medieval literature, Arthurian literature, medievalism and the Bible. A year later, in 1990, she met Adam Potkay, a newly hired English professor who would become her husband 16 months later.
On campus, Potkay is remembered by her students and colleagues for her love of European travel, ancient and modern languages, Polish-American traditions, crossword puzzles and mystery novels. Provost Michael Halleran sent a faculty-wide email April 9 sharing news of her death and details about her funeral arrangements.
She greatly loved and was loved greatly by her family, friends, colleagues and neighbors, many of whom offered invaluable support during her difficult final months,” Halleran said in the email.
“She greatly loved and was loved greatly by her family, friends, colleagues and neighbors, many of whom offered invaluable support during her difficult final months,” Halleran said in the email.
Potkay was born in Chicago, Illinois, May 22, 1957. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Loyola University and later received her Ph.D. in medieval literature from the University of Virginia. In 1997, her book “Minding the Body: Women and Literature in the Middle Ages, 800-1500” was published. After that, she co-wrote a series of recorded lectures on the Bible and literature with her husband.
During her time at the College, she was an active member of several arts and sciences committees, such as the Committee on Academic Status and the Committee on Degrees. She wrote several articles, including a study of Marie de France’s “Lais,” which was published in the journal Christianity and Literature. In 1996, she was also the recipient of the Alumni Fellowship Award for Excellence in Teaching.
According to Potkay’s colleague, English professor Kim Wheatley, she will be remembered for her integrity as a professor and for the friendship she provided.
Monica had a profound commitment to helping students improve their writing, and would spend long hours meeting one-on-one with students to discuss their papers,” Wheatley said in an email.
“Monica had a profound commitment to helping students improve their writing, and would spend long hours meeting one-on-one with students to discuss their papers,” Wheatley said in an email. “She inspired countless students with a love of medieval literature, and was a masterful advisor. I greatly respected her integrity and professionalism, and will miss her sorely both as a brilliant colleague and as a dear friend.”
Visiting hours will be held April 11 from 5-7 p.m. at the Bucktrout Funeral Home of Williamsburg. Services will be held April 12 at noon at St. Olaf’s Catholic Church, which Potkay was a devout member of. In lieu of flowers, her family is requesting that donations be made to the Hospice House and Support Care of Williamsburg, the Massey Cancer Center or the Saint Olaf Food Pantry.
Potkay is survived by her husband Adam, their son Aaron, her mother-in-law and other relatives and friends.