From his work with Hillel to the Hawthorne-Longfellow library to frisbee and the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC), Theo Danzig ’22 touched countless lives in his more than three years as a Bowdoin student. Theo’s unparalleled intellect, sarcastic sense of humor and devotion to his loved ones are fondly remembered by his friends, professors and teammates alike.
Theo lived in Moore Hall, MacMillan House, the 15th floor of Coles Tower and an off-campus residence during his time at Bowdoin. A native of New York’s Upper West Side, Theo’s roots were an essential aspect of his identity. Theo Danzig passed away in Brunswick at the end of last week and was buried in New Jersey surrounded by friends and family.
Livia Kunins-Berkowitz ’22, a classmate of Theo’s at Booker T. Washington Middle School, Stuyvesant High School and Bowdoin, knew Theo as a true New Yorker.
“Theo embodied the Upper West Side for me. He loved New York, his Jewishness, vigorous debates and big hand gestures,” Kunins-Berkowitz said.
At his adopted home in Brunswick, however, Theo’s identity was inextricably tied to the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. A member of the team from the beginning of his first year, Theo’s unabashed enthusiasm for the sport and the larger frisbee community around it was contagious. Most days, if the sun was out, it was more than likely to see Theo tossing a disc across the quad with his friends.
Dylan Sloan ’22, one of Theo’s close friends and teammates, described the look of joy Theo carried with him wherever he went.
“I saw it every time he stepped onto the frisbee field, often in a tank top and one-inch running shorts, and [he] brought the gift of his passion and humor to everyone around him,” Sloan said.
Theo had a penchant for wearing peculiar outfits on the frisbee field.
“He used to come to practice wearing a full suit and still proceed to play the entire time,” said teammate and former captain Will Savage ’21. “Theo always brought an energy to every frisbee setting, whether on the field or making jokes from the sideline. Everyone on the team knew who he was from the beginning.”
In 2020, Theo was awarded an Alfred E. Golz Summer Fellowship and researched contemporary historiography with a special focus on American history. A history and government and legal studies double major, Theo was passionate and knowledgeable about his school work and his research.
“In class, he was a huge presence,” said Barry N. Wish Professor of Government Paul Franco. “He would often be the person to break the ice and answer the first question of the day. He would do so in a manner that provoked further discussion.”
“[In] all of his comments he imparted his distinctive personality and style. This was true of his writing as well. He was a beautiful writer, clear and stylish,” Franco said. “Theo was also extremely generous to other students, discussing books and ideas with them and helping to brainstorm about papers. Finally, there was Theo’s sense of humor, which was irreverent and often self-deprecating. Theo was a true exemplar of the life of the mind.”
This year, Theo was working on an honors project about metahistory with Professor of History Dallas Denery. Denery said that students, both current and past, have reached out to him in recent days wanting to discuss Theo and his academic interests.
“They often would talk about his mind. Not like he was smart or liked school, but his mind. They wanted to know what his honors project was going to be,” Denery said. “It just struck me the way they were all so interested in what he was going to work on. They found him interesting. And I thought that was even better than saying someone is smart or they like their classes, it’s that people were genuinely curious [about] what he was going to work on.”
Theo excelled far beyond the classroom, creating community in a range of spaces across campus.
A co-president of Bowdoin Hillel, Theo was extremely dedicated to his faith. Moreover, his appreciation of Jewish events was infectious. His co-leaders of Hillel, Max Freeman ’22 and Elise Hocking ’22 described Theo’s presence.
“Theo was committed to enlivening Jewish life. During Hillel Shabbat candle-lighting, he was keenly attentive to everyone’s sense of belonging. He loved to sing. Shamelessly he would sing, even if no one else knew the words. His Jewish humor was legendary. His jokes, often niche, sometimes edgy, lightened every space he was in,” Freeman and Hocking wrote. “Reaching Friday and welcoming in Shabbat with Theo was a gift. May his memory be a blessing.”
Perhaps the only trait more quintessentially Theo than his remarkable intelligence was his quick wit and scandalous sense of humor. A frequent contributor to the Bowdoin Harpoon, Theo relished the opportunity to make those around him smile.
Aine Lawlor ’21 and Blaine Stevens ’22, the Editors-in-Chief of the Harpoon, described Theo as everything you would expect a Harpoon writer and editor to be: “smart, funny, Jewish and more than a little bit weird.”
“Theo delivered his outstanding headlines with a stoicism that reflected the old soul he was, [his] energy will always be present in our publication and in the memories of our Bowdoin experience,” Lawlor and Stevens wrote.
Theo’s influence also extended past campus and into the outdoors. As a member of the fall 2018 Leadership Training program and a BOC Orientation Trip Leader, he was a constant source of energy and an intrepid explorer.
“Theo was really a brilliant person. I think he had a lot of courage in the way he was here at Bowdoin. He was very much himself, which I think a lot of folks really struggle to be at a place like this,” Outing Club Director Mike Woodruff said.
“What I really appreciated was he saw a lot of humor in a world that is sometimes not that funny. I really loved that about him. He said what he meant, pretty much all the time, in my experience with him,” Woodruff said. “The BOC was fortunate to have him.”
Theo’s enthusiasm for the outdoors included a memorable foray into the world of fishing. He spent much of his three summers living in Brunswick out on the Androscoggin River, repeatedly casting his line—usually with little to show for it—in a tradition shared with many of his friends, including Sloan.
“Almost every single day for three months, the two of us would trot down to the exact same spot on the Androscoggin River in Brunswick and spend a couple of hours casting the exact same lures at the exact same fish,” Sloan said. “Of course, we caught nothing. But one day in mid-August, I heard a shout and turned around to see Theo pulling what I can only conscionably describe as a minnow out of the water. To this day, I swear that the fish must have just accidentally swam into the hook—it was going right into its side, and the fish couldn’t have been more than a couple of inches long—but by G-d, it was a fish.”
Theo’s persistence spoke more to the kind of friend he was, rather than to the kind of fisherman he was.
“Looking back at that, I also see in his eyes the pleasure we both got from spending hours upon hours together that summer, pretending to fish but really just using it as an excuse to be together,” Sloan said. “I think that for Theo, at the end of the day, spending time with people he loved really was the point of so many of his wild ideas and antics.”
The Shiva service held for Theo on November 2 and 3 overflowed with Bowdoin students, staff and faculty members. Details about a memorial service for the campus community will be announced in the coming days.
Dylan Sloan is a member of the Bowdoin Orient.