Describing a legend in his own lifetime is surely the greatest challenge an author can ever have. Had someone undertaken to write a biography of Homer St. Clair Pace in the 1920s, 30s or early 40s, they would have found themselves in the same situation as anyone attempting to write about Dr. Edward J. Mortola in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Yet a great deal was written, especially about the Mortola management style.

    An article in Change magazine in 1977, for example, discussed that inimitable style within the context of the challenges facing private colleges and universities. A 1975 feature story in the New York Sunday News on the role of university trustees, most notably, Dr. Charles Dyson, then Chairman of the Pace University Board of Trustees, pointed out that while trustees run the institution, "Dyson leaves new programming to Dr. Edward Mortola, Pace’s cherubic, gregarious President." The article continued: "Mortola is Dyson’s kind of man; practical, enamored of big business, able to line up New York money. And sharp. He can spot trends; he can also, as they say at Pace,’ envision new student segments in the population.’ (New York Sunday News Magazine, October 12, 1975).

    Visionary that he was, Edward J. Mortola could see things before others could begin to imagine them. In other words, the man who became President of Pace in 1960 was a creative academician, the third in a not-so-long line of poets in three-piece suits which the institution has been fortunate enough to have at the helm since 1906. With the exception of Homer St. Clair Pace, Edward Mortola had the longest tenure as President of the school Homer and his brother founded. While he had not known Homer personally, his long and felicitous association with Robert Pace, Homer’s son and the institution’s second President, began in 1947 and ended only with Robert Pace’s death in 1989. Their relationship provided the continuity which helped the institution move forward without losing sight of its origins.

    It would have made Letizia Pellerano Mortola very proud had she lived to see her son inaugurated as president of a great institution. According to Letizia’s youngest child, Edward, who was born in 1917 in the family apartment above his father’s New York City restaurant, this mother of five, who like her husband, John Batista Mortola, had emigrated from Ruta, a small town outside Genoa, "went as far as the sixth grade when her father decided that was enough education for a woman. She knew more about college values, about the structure of education," Dr. Mortola told the interviewer for the Pace Oral History Project in 1984, "about the need for learning than any of us. She always had a vision of our going on to education. Education was the ultimate goal of the way she was going to raise her children, and her husband John supplied the caring and support that produced a remarkably cohesive family."

He continued: "She was a truly intelligent woman. She knew the uses of the mind and she wanted to see the mind develop as much as possible. She wanted to make possible for her children what she had been denied." And for her youngest child she had something very definite in mind. "When I was a kid, literally twelve or thirteen years old, " Edward J. Mortola said, "my mother said, ‘Someday, Eddie, I want you to be the president of a college." Literally, I can remember that clearly."

   At the time Edward Mortola was a bright and eager parochial school student. Before long he would attend Regis High School, an endowed institution. This proved to be a turning for the young scholar. "My life would have taken a very different course if I hadn’t been accepted to Regis. Throughout my life, I’ve always felt that Regis was the most important educational experience I had," said Dr. Mortola in 1984. From Regis it was on to City College for one year and then to Fordham University where he earned a B.A. in mathematics in 1938. Three years later Edward Mortola was awarded an M.A. in Administration from Fordham. In the interim he had been Assistant Registrar at Fordham’s School of Education and a mathematics instructor at Cooper Union and at Townsend Harris High School.

   During World War II he attained the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy. His wartime duties included teaching at the Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University, directing the registration division of the U. S. Armed Forces Institute at Madison, Wisconsin, and serving in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D. C. It was also during the war, in 1941, that Dr. Mortola married the brilliant and charming psychologist Doris Slater. In the immediate post-war period Dr. Edward Mortola was awarded a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Fordham University where he served as Assistant Registrar in the University’s City Hall Division. He was also a lecturer in the University’s Graduate School of Education and an adjunct faculty member at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City and Cooper Union in New York City.

   Beginning in 1947, Dr. Mortola held a series of increasingly responsible positions at Pace: Assistant Dean (1947-1949), Dean (1949-1950), Provost (1950-1954) and Vice President (1954-1960). In interviews conducted in 1984 for the Pace Oral History Project, Dr. Mortola explained his first big promotion, from Assistant Dean to Dean of Pace College. "It came about very suddenly," he said, "Unexpectedly. And because of a problem involving the Dean. So that when it happened, I had not really been anticipating any change for some time to come. There were one or two other people, I guess, who were considered for the job of Dean. But I went to see Robert Pace and said, ‘I’m sorry this has happened but I’m ready to take over. So if you want me, I’m here.’

   Robert Pace did indeed want Edward J. Mortola, so much so that he nominated him to be Pace’s third President. Robert Pace had had ample time to observe Dr. Mortola in action and he was fully convinced that his designated successor was the right person to shepherd Pace’s plans for a new campus in lower Manhattan’s urban renewal district through city, state and federal bureaucracies. That, as anyone familiar with Pace surely knows, was merely the beginning. For the next twenty-seven years, twenty-four as President and then, as Chancellor from 1984-1987, as well as Chancellor and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees from 1987 through 1990, Edward J. Mortola dreamed big dreams and saw most of them come true. By the mid-1980s the college of 4,500 students he had been named to head a quarter century earlier had 28,000 students in six locations in New York City and Westchester. Aside from the more than 500% increase in enrollment, the following statistics are worth noting: 3,200 faculty and staff in eight schools and colleges; 50 buildings; 260 acres of lan

How was all of this accomplished? The answer is Edward J. Mortola’s leadership style. In a 1986 interview for the Pace alumni magazine, Dr. Mortola shared is views on this subject saying:

Leadership is identified through results and is dependent on the creation of a capable and dedicated team that shares the mission of the leader and is willing to sacrifice for important objectives to achieve the goals of the institution. Without success in building a team, a leader can have very little effectiveness.

One should quickly put aside the notion that the leader is, or should be, an elitist standing apart from those who follow; leadership is a shared responsibility.

And that it was during the Mortola years. The excellent working relationship Dr. Mortola had with Dr. Jack Schiff was perhaps the best example of shared leadership. Less visible but very significant in the growth and development of the University was the shared responsibility with the trustees, in particular Board chairmen. In addition to this undeniable charm and warmth, one of Edward J. Mortola’s greatest assets was his ability to surround himself with people who could assist him in attaining the lofty objectives he had set for Pace. Board Chairman Samuel Miller was one of those individuals. He provided the real estate expertise the University needed. Charles Dyson’s strength in the area of mergers and acquisitions was also invaluable, as were the financial and management skills of Board Chairmen Thomas B. Hogan, William G. Sharwell and John C. Haley.

    Edward J. Mortola has often said he didn’t do it alone and that is true. Yet, without Edward J. Mortola, Pace University, would not be what it is today. He was the catalyst which made it all come together, the magician always capable of pulling still another larger and fluffier rabbit out of the hat. Above all, he was a dreamer, but one who heeded Theodore Roosevelt’s advice: "Keep your eyes on the stars but keep your feet on the ground." When asked in 1986 how he wished to be remembered, Dr. Mortola replied: "When I look down the road traveled and the road ahead, I suppose that, most importantly, I would like to be remembered as someone who cared, someone who felt that he had many friends at Pace, someone who spent his life on behalf of this institution and felt that every moment of it was worthwhile."

   And worthwhile it was for the institution to which Edward J. Mortola devoted is life. Like Hutchins at Chicago and Elliot at Harvard, the man and the institution are forever linked and this is how it should be; for mathematician Mortola = Pace.

Edward J. Mortola
Homer Pace
Wit & Wisdom
Pace Ny