Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Patrick J. Nolan VI, longtime Villanova professor and Emmy-winning writer, dies at 88

He won the 1979 Emmy Award for writing "The Jericho Mile," penned several plays, and was an inspirational professor of American literature.

Dr. Nolan turned his hobbies of reading and writing into a long and decorated career.
Dr. Nolan turned his hobbies of reading and writing into a long and decorated career.Read moreCourtesy of the family

Patrick J. Nolan VI, 88, of Wayne, a colorful, dramatic, and versatile writer; longtime professor of American literature at Villanova University; and a 1979 Emmy Award winner for the TV film The Jericho Mile, died Thursday, Nov. 4, of complications from pneumonia at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Dr. Nolan told The Inquirer in 1982 that he wanted to be a lawyer when he entered Villanova as an undergraduate. By his 1955 graduation, however, that notion had passed, and the former Southeast Catholic High School basketball star was adrift.

“I was a kid from South Philly who played a lot of ball and was at a loss over what I was going to do with my life,” he said in 1982.

It was during his ensuing 3½ years in the Navy that Dr. Nolan realized he could turn his hobbies — reading and writing — into a career as a literature teacher and professional writer. “It seemed a good way to combine a vocation and an avocation,” he said.

So he kicked off a half century of writing exceptional stories, screenplays, TV show scripts, theatrical plays, novels, and poems, and teaching English and American literature at the University of Detroit and Villanova.

He won the 1979 Emmy for “outstanding writing in a limited series or a special” for The Jericho Mile, which Daily News TV critic Jim O’Brien described at the time as “the gripping, dramatic story … about a prison inmate who begins running and works at it so doggedly that he becomes Olympic material.”

O’Brien called the film “first-rate entertainment, well-written,” and praised its “crisp pace with crackling, authentic dialogue.”

The film starred Peter Strauss and Brian Dennehy, and actor Brad Pitt later pointed to it as an inspiration for his work in the 2011 film Moneyball. The Christian Science Monitor called The Jericho Mile “a minor classic,” and filmmaker Scott Derrickson said in a 2018 online interview, “It was the first time I could watch a movie more than once.”

Despite his success, Dr. Nolan made no plans to move his wife and three sons from Wayne to California. “No Hollywood tinsel town stuff for us,” he told the Daily News in 1979. “Besides, there’s my teaching career. It’s exciting to be part of a successful film project. But, to me, it isn’t as exciting as teaching.”

Indeed, Dr. Nolan’s achievements in the classroom rival his writing credits. He won a 1980 Teaching Excellence Award from Philadelphia Magazine, and a 1986 Alumni Medallion Award from Villanova. In accepting his Emmy in 1979, he said: “This is almost as exciting as marking freshman papers back at Villanova University.”

He was a teaching fellow and faculty member of the English department at Detroit from 1959 to 1962, a professor of American literature at Villanova from 1962 until his retirement in 2002, and an adjunct professor of American literature at the Curtis Institute of Music.

“He brings real-life experiences into the classroom and makes you, as a student, want to listen,” a student told the Villanovan in 2002.

As he taught, Dr. Nolan continued to write. Inquirer critic Douglas J. Keating noted Dr. Nolan’s “aggressive, colorful dialogue” in his 1982 play Chameleon, and his “animated, focused portrayal” of playwright Eugene O’Neill in his 1991 one-man show Midnight Rainbows. “Nolan can write vividly and lyrically,” Keating wrote.

Born Jan. 2, 1933, in the Bronx, N.Y., Dr. Nolan was raised on Sigel Street after his family moved to South Philadelphia when he was 3. He got a bachelor’s degree from Villanova, a master’s degree from Detroit, and a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1973.

He collected art and liked to run, swim, ski, and play tennis. He was usually one of the loudest parents at his sons’ baseball games. He “lived an incredibly full life,” his family wrote in a tribute.

“He always talked of perseverance being greater than genius,” said his son Mark. “He said it takes a lot of grit, time, and patience to make it.”

His former wife, Karen, said, “He showed me by his actions that he wouldn’t let anyone dictate his worth.”

In addition to his son and former wife, Dr. Nolan is survived by sons Patrick VII and Christian, three grandchildren, a sister, and other relatives.

A family visitation is to be held at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23, at St. Katharine of Siena, 104 S. Aberdeen Ave., Wayne, Pa. 19087. A funeral Mass is to follow at 12:15 p.m.

Donations in his name may be made to Daemion Counseling Center, 95 Howellville Rd., Berwyn, Pa. 19312.