Lewis J. Hardee Jr., emeritus professor of theater, former music director, and chair of the Wagner College Theatre department, died on July 7, 2018, after a brief illness, at the Manhattan apartment home he shared with his dear friend and companion, Peter Monteleone. He was 81.
Born in the coastal fishing village of Southport, North Carolina, in 1937, Hardee was deeply attached to his hometown. “My career was in New York,” he often said, “but my heart is in Southport, where it always has been and will remain.”
Hardee earned a master’s degree in musicology at UNC Chapel Hill and pursued post-graduate studies in composition at Columbia.
As a composer and author of musicals, Hardee was especially proud of his musical drama Revolution!, written for Southport’s bicentennial celebration. Two of his musicals, The Little Prince and The Prince and the Pauper, toured the United States before Hardee joined the Wagner College Theatre faculty as music director in 1984.
“Whenever I think of Lewis,” said retired theater professor John Jamiel, “I think of a Southern gentleman: charming, funny, and a great cook who made a wonderful coq au vin welcoming me to the department. Lewis was instrumental in hiring me at Wagner; he mentored me, and he changed my life and the direction of my career.”
“This talented man always had compassion for the students,” recalled Martha D’Arbanville, former WCT administrative assistant. “He would make a complete turkey dinner at the holidays and transport it to school in his beloved Lincoln Town Car. He wanted those students who couldn’t go home to have some of the holiday tradition.”
A longtime member of the Lambs, the first professional theatrical club in the United States, Hardee wrote its definitive history, The Lambs Theatre Club, in 2006. For a number of years, through his graces, the Lambs hosted the Stanley Drama Awards ceremonies, a Wagner College Theatre program that has recognized up-and-coming playwrights since 1957.
He wrote several other books in the nearly two decades that followed his retirement from Wagner College in 1999. His personal favorites were two collections of material he compiled about his hometown, Classic Southport Cooking, published in 2005, and Of Home and the River, a combination autobiography and local history, published in 2008.