A gift to the Kelly Library celebrates lifelong mentorship and friendship

Mar 7, 2022
The Kelly Library has a concrete facade and an open portico. Blue banners hung from the building read: Kelly Library.
Photo by Blaise Calaycay.

The story behind the William D. Sharpe Chief Librarian position at U of T’s John M. Kelly Library is proof that acts of kindness can have profound consequences.

William Sharpe (BA 1950), who left a bequest for the position, was actually a student of Victoria College, St. Mike’s neighbour to the north. But Sharpe was a fan of Kelly Library, in large part because of Father John Kelly himself.

Chris Ricci (MD 1980), whose father Elio Ricci (MD 1951) was a lifelong friend of Sharpe’s, tells the story. He says that Fr. Kelly was very kind to Sharpe in his student days, listening to him and becoming a key influence in his life.

It began when Fr. Kelly approached Elio Ricci, who was living in Sullivan House at St. Michael’s. Fr Kelly said, “Elio, there is a boy over there, reading under the tree. He’s an orphan. Make friends and take care of him.”

There is a boy over there, reading under the tree. He’s an orphan. Make friends and take care of him.

Sharpe became one of Elio’s closest friends, “part of our family, my Uncle Bill. Their friendship was lifelong. He maintained his loyalty to St. Mike’s because of Fr. Kelly and developed a relationship with the library,” a cause very close to his heart, says Ricci.

And what’s more, “Fr. Kelly became like an adopted uncle to Bill,” recalls Sharpe’s friend George Davitt, who met Sharpe through the Ricci family.

William Sharpe combined cutting-edge medical research with a love for libraries

Davitt paints a portrait of Sharpe as a Renaissance man. A classics major as an undergrad, Sharpe did his medical studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and became a pathologist, working at Cabrini Medical Center in New York.

“He was a pathologist in New York when AIDS emerged and began noticing the sudden rise in cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma. He did some cutting-edge research,” Davitt says.

Sharpe was frequently called on to offer expert testimony, and published numerous papers. His work resulted in an invitation to join the New York Academy of Medicine.

But on top of his medical expertise, Sharpe had numerous interests, Davitt notes, including calligraphy, his 10,000-volume library (with a particular interest in the work of Southern writer Walker Percy) and the American Civil War.

Outstanding generosity to students and the Kelly Library

“He was a fascinating man and deeply moral,” Davitt says of his friend, noting that Sharpe often helped out young students, offering them jobs or paying their tuition.

“Bill wasn’t a Catholic but he was close to Fr. Kelly,” he says.

After his death in 2016, many of Sharpe’s 10,000 books were donated to Kelly Library.

“He lived in a library himself,” Davitt says.

Sheril Hook, who holds the William D. Sharpe Chief Librarian position, calls the gift “a wonderful acknowledgement of the centrality of academic libraries in enhancing student experience.

“By providing support for a leadership position, Dr. Sharpe recognized and affirmed Fr. Kelly’s creation of the library and has helped to ensure we can continue to meet the future needs of those pursuing higher education.”

This gift is a wonderful acknowledgement of the centrality of academic libraries in enhancing student experience.

By the University of St. Michael’s College