DA identifies man found in water as Italian scholar Luciano Rebay

A seasonal Lambert’s Cove resident, Mr. Rebay was a scholar of Italian literature.

Looking west from Tashmoo jetty Makonikey Point is in the distance. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe identified an elderly man found floating off West Tisbury in Vineyard Sound early Monday morning as Luciano Rebay, 86, of 155 Gay Head Avenue in Tisbury off Lambert’s Cove Road.

Mr. O’Keefe told The Times late Tuesday that foul play is not suspected and the probable cause of death is drowning. He said the office of the medical examiner now has jurisdiction and that office would determine the official cause of death.

Just before 7 am on Monday morning, a Vineyard charter captain notified the Coast Guard that he had spotted a dead body in the water off Makonikey Point in Vineyard Sound about a half-mile northwest of the Tashmoo Pond opening.

Mr. Rebay was fully clothed and was carrying no identification, police said.

The Coast Guard retrieved the body, which was brought to the office of the State Medical Examiner and State Police were notified.

A longtime seasonal resident of Lambert’s Cove, Mr. Rebay was the Giuseppe Ungaretti Professor Emeritus of Italian literature at Columbia University in New York City. He walked the beach regularly, according to one neighborhood resident.

“After receiving his Ph.D. at Columbia in 1960, Giuseppe Ungaretti Professor in Italian Literature Emeritus Luciano Rebay began a long and fruitful career as a teacher and scholar at his alma mater. Jo Ann Cavallo, Chairman of the Department of Italian at Columbia University said in an email to The Times. “He taught a range of courses, primarily on modern and contemporary Italian poetry but also on lesser-known poets writing in dialect. Prof. Rebay also served the university outside the classroom in various capacities, most prominently as Department Chair, Director of Columbia’s Casa Italiana, and as a member of the University Senate.  His knowledge of Italian literature was deep, his commitment to university life unwavering, and his citizenship exemplary.”

According to his family, there will not be an immediate memorial service.