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Geoffrey

Geoffrey Ellsworth Gee

d. December 28, 2020

Geoffrey Ellsworth Gee, the retired Director of Penn Abroad at the University of Pennsylvania, passed away suddenly on December 28th, 2020 at the age of 73 at his home in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1947, Geoffrey, the youngest of four children, spent his early years on a dairy farm, operated by his parents, Phyllis and Ellsworth Gee. As a teenager, his life took an unlikely turn when his older cousin, E. Dale Saunders, a renowned linguist and scholar of Japanese language and literature, convinced Phyllis and Ellsworth that Geoffrey should attend boarding school in Switzerland and take up the study of French. This unusual beginning launched Geoffrey’s lifelong love of, and devotion to, world cultures and languages, which he shared with family, friends, and countless students. In 1965, Geoffrey moved with his cousin to Paris to continue his studies and French language acquisition. He enrolled in the College Sainte Barbe in the Quartier Latin, earning his baccalaureate in 1968. Recalling this time in his life, Geoffrey loved telling stories about his experiences as a 17-year old from Ohio moving to 1960’s Paris, with an apartment to himself (when Cousin Dale was away). He was captivated by Paris and France - the language, culture, cuisine - and it was in Paris that he met his first wife, Martine Chauvet. France and everything French remained a touchstone throughout his life. Those early experiences, immersed in worlds so far from home, including travels to Japan with his cousin, shaped who he was and foreshadowed a career dedicated to international education. Following his baccalaureate, Geoffrey returned to the United States to attend the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his B.A., broadening his language studies by majoring in Arabic. While a graduate student studying medieval Arabic poetry at Penn, Geoffrey spent a year at the American University of Cairo and a year at St. John’s College, Oxford University. After completing his graduate coursework at Penn, Geoffrey began working for Penn’s Office of International Programs (OIP) where he found his professional calling. He spent the following 26 years developing friendships with colleagues and relationships with universities worldwide. He traveled extensively, visiting six continents, and helped hundreds of students study abroad to experience the world’s diverse cultures and to look at the United States through a different lens. At Penn, he was a respected and admired colleague and cherished mentor to junior staff. He was active in several professional organizations, including NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad, of which he was a founding member. Through his beloved wife Denise, whom he married in 1990, Geoffrey came to know and love New England, and relished Connerty family gatherings in Maine and Massachusetts. He patiently tolerated annual “nostalgia tours” past Denise’s childhood homes in the Boston area. Their travels often took them to France to visit his daughter Alexandra, her family, and old friends, fulfilling his advice to students: “We are hoping you fall in love with the place you visit and come back later in life.” Geoffrey cherished his children, Alexandra, Emmanuel and Maddie, and adored his three grandchildren. A voracious reader, he loved books in general and devoured mysteries, always on the hunt for new authors to share with family and friends. He was a curmudgeon par excellence with a sentimental core who never raised his voice or lost his temper with his family. He was also a principled man who stayed true to the things he loved, which included, in no particular order: Reese’s peanut butter cups, cigars,oysters, olives, the Rolling Stones, ironing, saucisson, vodka martinis, wine, aged single malt, and cheese - the smellier the better. Geoffrey’s chocolate chip cookies were legendary and coveted by his U.S. and French families. Geoffrey’s achievements in life were many, but he was most proud of the fact that he never learned to drive. When explaining this to others, he would share that at age 12 he accidentally drove a tractor on the farm into a tree, and that was that. An urbanite through and through, he could get anywhere on Septa, a gift his daughter Maddie inherited. His favorite public transit journey was the 94 bus to Wegmans in Montgomeryville. Geoffrey departed us honest and true to his character, a gentleman with a large heart, love for the diversity of people and cultures, open to new experiences, and eager to resume travel once he could safely do so again. He once wrote: “I believe that students who write their way through their cross- cultural experience are most likely to have the kind of profound encounter with ‘difference’ that will lead to attitudes and acts of tolerance throughout life, and I can think of no more positive impact.” Geoffrey is survived by his loving wife of 30 years, Denise Connerty; his three children, Alexandra (Patrick) Vergne, Paris, France; Emmanuel (Anna Bortnick) Gee, New York City; and Madeleine Gee, Philadelphia, PA; his three grandchildren, Margaux Vergne, Raquel Gee and Carter Gee; his brother Timothy Gee; his former spouse Martine Chauvet; his sisters-in-law Jackie and Elaine Connerty; brother- in-law Richard Connerty and an extended family that includes many Connerty, Gee and Chauvet nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ellsworth and Sarah Phyllis (Cusick) Gee, sister Phyllis Gee, brother Peter Gee, and his brother-in-law Jack Connerty. We love and remember Geoffrey Gee as he lives on through our actions and deeds. A celebration of Geoffrey’s life will be held when the weather warms and we can gather safely.
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