Pasquale "Pat" Melaragno, MIT's pistol coach from 1977-96, was remembered by a generation of MIT sharpshooters last week as an avuncular coach, a fun-loving companion, a compelling raconteur and an all-round straight shooter.
Melaragno, 71, who was also an assistant professor and rangemaster, died at home in North Scituate, R.I., on May 24. Since then, MIT's pistol alumni from coast to coast have been exchanging fond recollections and anecdotes via e-mail.
What Alan M. Marcum (S.B. 1978) remembers most of all is Melaragno's smile.
"His whole being was packed into that smile," said Marcom, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif. "His eyes, his mouth, his whole face, his entire body, everything he was he packed into that luscious, sometimes mischievous smile. Several years after I left the Institute, I stopped by the range on a trip to Boston. Pat was there, with an immediate smile of recognition and hug of welcome. That was Pat."
Joe Mayo (S.B. 1983) of La Jolla, Calif., recalls how the coach could tell when he was in a funk and knew how to snap him out of it.
"One time Pasquale saw that I was very upset over something and I was letting little things bug me, and not just in matches," Mayo said. "I was always letting stuff get to me. He told me in a very Pasquale matter-of-fact way, 'Ya gotta roll with the punches. Ya can't let the little things botha' ya, J.J.' For me it was one of those jaw dropping, look-in-the-mirror kind of events that changed me, and that I needed to hear."
Warren Katz (S.B. 1987) of Cambridge considered the range "my home away from home." He said, "Pat, being a kinder, gentler version of my dad and always of good cheer, never made you feel bad about anything." His coaching style consisted of "gentle reminders of the basics and a never-ending string of giving waitresses a hard time" while on road trips.
"I'm really glad I went to the alumni match in April and had the chance to spend a few minutes reminiscing with him," Katz said. "This is a great loss for all of us."
Kelvin Phoon (S.B. 1987) owned a Volkswagen Rabbit, the same model the coach drove. Years after he graduated, Melaragno would ask about the car, even though it was history by then.
"Whether it was your home town, the little diner that Pat recommended when your family visited upstate New York, or the truck stop near where your brother was attending college, Pat always had an interest," said Phoon, a San Diego resident.
Between rounds at the 1975 nationals near Phoenix, Melaragno organized a trip to an out-of-the-way roadside restaurant for what was supposed to be a quick lunch.
"As the clock ticked away, we had burgers and chips, and Pat told stories," said Steve Goldstein of Reading (S.B. 1976). "We made it back with at best 15 minutes to spare before the match. Pat was completely relaxed and unconcerned about the time even though I'd seriously doubted we'd make it."
During Melaragno's tenure, MIT became the premier civilian shooting team in the country, winning several national championships, including the first-ever pistol-shooting title for women. The Melaragno Trophy has been awarded to the women's national air pistol champion since 1999.
ARMY, POLICE CAREERS
Before coming to MIT, Melaragno served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and as a Providence police officer for 20 years, retiring as a sergeant in 1973. He retired as a warrant officer from the Army Reserve's criminal investigation division in 1990.
As a member of the All-Army pistol team, Melaragno won four medals in the Pan American Games in 1972. He was the national air pistol champion in 1975 and was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
Melaragno is survived by his wife, Joan (Clarke) of North Scituate; three sons, Steven M. of Greenville, R.I., Paul C. of Cumberland, R.I., and Robert A. of Providence; a daughter, Susan Chabot of Walpole; and 10 grandchildren. Burial was in Highland Memorial Park in Johnson, R.I.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 2002.