CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno died early Thursday morning, according to a statement from interim SIU System President J. Kevin Dorsey.
“This was unexpected. Even though he carried a diagnosis for which he was being treated, this was sudden and unpredicted,” SIU Trustee Dr. Marsha Ryan said.
Montemagno publicly announced in late June that he had been diagnosed with cancer, however, his official cause of death remains unknown.
“As many of you know, I have recently curtailed my public schedule in order to address significant back and hip pain," Montemagno wrote on his blog on June 27. "The pain was originally thought to be cysts.
“The cause of the cysts ... has now been identified as cancer,” Montemagno continued. “ I won’t go into more detail here other than to say we are treating it aggressively and I am confident that I will be around for a long time.”
Throughout the last few months, Montemagno underwent an “arduous and draining” regimen of treatment that included chemotherapy, according to members of the SIU Board of Trustees, who emphasized the chancellor’s resilience and commitment to the Carbondale campus.
“He worked in spite of the physical tolls that his treatment took on him,” Ryan said. “He worked every day that he was not in active treatment.”
Since the cancer announcement, Montemagno had been seen moving with the help of a cane or mobility scooter. Yet posts on his Twitter account showed he was an active presence on campus, visiting with students at university events within in the past week, and even attending an SIU Aviation event with his grandchildren this past Saturday.
Throughout his treatment Montemagno gave no public indication of the type of cancer he suffered from, and never indicated any change or decline in his condition.
Montemagno was hired in August 2017 to turn around the struggling Carbondale campus, which has been plagued by enrollment decline.
Previously, he was a renowned nanotechnology and biomedical engineering researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, where he headed the Ingenuity Lab.
“Dr. Montemagno was a visionary who worked tirelessly to advance SIU Carbondale. He created a roadmap to secure the university’s future; earned the respect and commitment of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members; and was an unwavering proponent of the university’s mission” Dorsey said. “His loss will be deeply felt at SIU, in Southern Illinois and in the scientific and academic communities.”
“He was so dedicated to the cause of putting SIU on its feet, and I swear nothing but this could have stopped him,” Ryan said. “He was determined to succeed.”
Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry also released a statement expressing his sympathy for Montemagno’s family, and his admiration for the chancellor, whom he called “a good friend.”
“Carlo was a good man with a bold, innovative vision for Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the region,” Henry said.
Montemagno is the second recent acting chancellor to die from cancer while in office. Paul Sarvela, who was appointed interim chancellor of SIU Carbondale in July 2014, died just months later in November 2014.
Montemagno is survived by his wife, Pamela, two children and five grandchildren.