Within days of his arrival to campus from Portland, Ore., in 1961, Stephen Lacey established a Merner Hall salon where he held court, strains of Monteverdi pouring from his mahogany stereo, upperclassmen crowded before his open door. He studied with Winifred Van Etten ’35, Liz Isaacs ’36, and John Shackford, graduating with honors in English and history in 1965. Then he moved across country to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
After teaching at the University of California-Santa Barbara and Howard University, Lacey was destined to return to the very department that guided him to Proust and Shakespeare, topics for which he would become famous among students. He later added a third specialty, the literature of AIDS. These, his Shakespeare play course, and his England course were his academic legacy. His other important legacy: Lacey was Cornell’s first openly gay professor and founder of its first lesbian and gay support group, serving as its faculty sponsor until 1995.
Lacey taught at Cornell for 23 years, until his death in 2000. That he changed lives was made abundantly clear by the memorial website where more than 100 people posted eloquent tributes.
“Lacey taught me much about literature, of course, but he taught me even more about living the good life,” wrote one alumnus, “a life rich with friends, food, spirit, song, generosity, and integrity.” Indeed, the Lacey Salon that began in Merner Hall in 1961 continued through a lifetime of friendships, ending in his last home, the Van Etten house that will now become known as the Van Etten-Lacey House, home of Cornell’s Center for the Literary Arts.