Dr. Gregory Sorrell, retired professor of French, German, and Italian, died on November 2, 2023, in Spartanburg, SC, following a stroke. He was 93 years old.
Greg loved theatre, opera, literature, poetry, history, and film, and ran the Foreign Film Festival for over 20 years at Shenandoah University in Virginia, where he was a professor. He was also a freelance film critic, first in San Francisco and later in Virginia. Known for his bilingual puns and his ability to recite Casablanca by heart, he loved to sing and make people laugh. As a Holocaust survivor, he overcame the horrors of his youth to build a rich life filled with family, love, laughter, and song.
He was born in 1930 in Oradea, in the Transylvania region of Romania. He often recounted that as a youth he loved reading the books in his mother’s collection of works by Nobel Prize-winning writers. He was fond of his uncle Bela Mezey, a writer whose short-stories of Jewish life in Eastern Europe were published in various anthologies.
Orphaned in the Nazi concentration camps, he spent his teen years after the war recovering in the French part of Switzerland. He was proud to have Switzerland as his adoptive home and remained a Francophile his entire life. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1957 and settled in San Francisco, where he taught himself English by going to movie theaters and staying through multiple showings of each film. He became a U.S. citizen in 1962.
Greg met his soulmate, Jeanne Merkle, in 1963 at a dance in San Francisco. He knew then that he wanted to marry her, which he did after a six-month courtship in which he serenaded her with love songs between visits to restaurants and movie theaters.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature by attending night school at San Francisco State University while working full-time during the day as a staff writer for Blue Cross Insurance. He also served as a part-time columnist and film critic for the San Francisco Territorial News. After completing his degree in only 18 months, he won a full fellowship to the doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin where he earned his Ph.D. in French Literature. He became a professor of French at the University of Denver in 1972. In 1979, he joined the faculty of Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. He wanted his students to gain not only language skills but also knowledge of the accompanying culture and history. Many of his students were opera singers studying at Shenandoah Conservatory, and he was passionate about supporting their music careers and attending their performances.
Greg adored his family and found happiness in the simple joys of being with them. He loved being a father and attended untold numbers of his daughters’ piano, violin, dance, orchestra, music composition, and academic events as the proudest, most enthusiastic audience member. Having acted on the stage from a young age, Greg relished opportunities to perform (often alongside his daughters) in plays and educational videos.
Even in his last few days when he could not easily converse, Greg brought joy to those around him by singing his favorite songs, including “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “La Marseillaise.” He is survived by his beloved wife of almost 60 years, Jeanne Sorrell, and his two daughters and their partners: Jeannette Sorrell of Cleveland, OH (Jeffrey Strauss); and Christine Sorrell Dinkins of Spartanburg, SC (Christopher Dinkins).
A memorial service will be held on Monday, November 27 at 4:00 pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2747 Fairmount Blvd, Cleveland Heights, OH. The family respectfully requests that any memorial donations be made to Apollo’s Fire (Cleveland), Wofford College (Spartanburg), the International Rescue Committee, or Doctors without Borders.
Floyd’s North Church Street Chapel