Paul E. Adorno, 76, who for 50 years was a noted Philadelphia educator and education advocate, died of cancer Tuesday at home in West Philadelphia.
Mr. Adorno dedicated his life to the city’s students, first as a teacher and administrator, and then with the Philadelphia Education Fund, a nonprofit with which he focused on arts education and research that helped at-risk students graduate.
“He was a tremendous force for education in Philadelphia,” said Farah Jimenez, the Education Fund’s president.
Mr. Adorno was born in New York City, grew up in Hillsdale, N.J., and graduated from Pascack Valley Regional High School. After graduating from Georgetown University in 1964, he entered the Peace Corps, where he served in Malawi.
When Mr. Adorno returned Stateside, he moved to Philadelphia, where he aimed to earn a doctorate in Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania. Halfway through the program, he had a change of heart and decided to become a public school teacher. Mr. Adorno earned a master’s in education at Penn and went to work at Bartram High School.
Early in his career, Mr. Adorno helped create a Bartram annex for high school students of all ages, including older pupils who had left without graduating. He also taught English, French and algebra. Later, he worked as a central-office administrator with the Philadelphia School District.
Allie Mulvihill first met Mr. Adorno in the early 1970s. She was teaching at Tilden Junior High and he at Bartram. They were involved with a program that focused on the wholistic education of children. Mulvihill worked closely with Mr. Adorno the rest of his life.
“I always called him my Renaissance man,” said Mulvihill. “He could do it all. He could work with teachers or first graders well. He was extremely versatile with administrative stuff. He was very tech-savvy early on. In terms of his professional life, he was just a star."
Mr. Adorno joined the Philadelphia Education Fund in the early 1990s, going on to lead the Arts Rising project, expand arts education in public schools, and develop an early-warning and support program for middle-school children at risk of dropping out.
For years, Mr. Adorno also taught aspiring art teachers about his craft as an adjunct faculty member at the University of the Arts, where he might walk into a classroom in his signature bow tie and bare feet, just to disarm students nervous about a public-speaking assignment.
“He had a magic touch,” said Susan Rodriguez, a University of the Arts colleague for decades. “He was everything that you would want in a professor."
Mr. Adorno was intrinsically cheerful, had a knack for collecting friends of all ages, and cared about the story of every person he encountered.
“He was the most curious person I’ve ever known,” said Sacha Adorno, a daughter. “He was open to everything. He just loved life.”
He enjoyed reading, travel, theater, and eating out, and was a voracious consumer of movies. He relished exercise, and worked out daily as long as his health allowed.
And though he was worldly and sophisticated, he was not pretentious. Before a visit during his illness, Mulvihill once asked Mr. Adorno what she could bring him. He had one request: He wanted a copy of Us Weekly, the celebrity and entertainment magazine.
Mulvihill was surprised, but Mr. Adorno explained: "It’s a way for me to keep up with what people are thinking about. It’s a very important prism into what’s going on in our world.”
Mr. Adorno delighted in his family -- his wife, Phyllis, a social worker whom he married in 1969, and their three children, and later, their five grandchildren.
He lived in West Philadelphia for 50 years, and Mr. Adorno relished city life.
“He walked the walk,” Sacha Adorno said. “My parents never left the city; we all went to public school. They were very committed to living the lives they promoted.”
Mr. Adorno’s wife predeceased him in 2014.
In addition to his daughter Sacha, Mr. Adorno is survived by his daughter Alexis, son Alexander; five grandchildren, and a sister, Beatrice Mercatante.
A memorial service will be held Jan. 19 at 1 p.m. at Power Plant Productions, 230 N. Second St. (The facility is accessible by a flight of stairs.)