Advocates for Hartford's destitute, together with colleagues at the University of Connecticut, mourned the loss Tuesday of Albert Alissi, a longtime UConn professor of social work who for many years served on the board of trustees of the Open Hearth agency for homeless men.
Alissi, 77, of Simsbury, died early Tuesday near his vacation home on Cape Cod when he was struck by a car. Police in Dennis, Mass., said Alissi was walking on a street near his home when the accident happened.
UConn officials said Alissi was a professor at its school of social work from 1968 to 2002. He remained as a professor emeritus and was involved in the school's doctoral program after retiring.
Alissi served on the Open Hearth board for about 30 years, said board members who knew him. The Open Hearth is a nonprofit agency that provides emergency shelter for homeless men and services that help them get back on their feet.
"Al was a very active man," said Catherine Havens, associate dean of the school of social work. "He was very committed to his community and to social work."
Havens said that Alissi also had been involved with Community Partners in Action, an agency that provides services to people getting out of prison.
Those who knew Alissi described him as a brilliant intellectual who would do menial work if he had to. Julius Newman, a colleague at UConn, told how he went to meet Alissi at a shelter he ran in Cleveland before coming to Connecticut and found Alissi scrubbing the floor.
"He was a renaissance man, he was smart but he would also work with his hands," Newman said. "Al was hands-on, nothing was below him."
Newman said Alissi's own upbringing in a poor family was the reason he identified with society's underdogs.
"He had a tremendous commitment to society and for doing for others," said Reid Fraser, who served with Alissi on Open Hearth's board.
When Alissi was president of the board during the early 1990s he was instrumental in the construction of a new building for the organization, Fraser said.
"Our old building was 100 years old and it was falling apart," said Thomas Collins, a former Open Hearth trustee. "He more than anyone else guided the completion of the new building."
Alissi stayed on the board after his term as president expired and Reid said he remained active with the organization. He played the accordion at Open Hearth's annual Christmas party for clients.
Police in Dennis were still investigating the accident late Tuesday. The driver, Todd Jenkins, 43, of Dennisport, Mass., was treated and released at a local hospital and then returned to the scene to talk with police. Jenkins said the rising sun had blinded him moments before the accident, police said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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