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Pietro S. Nivola, Brookings Scholar

March 31, 1944 - April 5, 2017
Star Staff

Pietro Nivola, who was considered a scholar and a kind and gracious man by colleagues and friends, died at home in Springs on April 5. He was 73 and had cancer.

Mr. Nivola’s career was largely spent at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where he began as a visiting fellow in 1988 and stayed on for nearly three decades, during which he published 11 books on energy conservation, environmental protection, trade and industrial policies, federalism, and political polarization. In 1993, he was appointed a senior fellow at the institution and, between 2004 and 2008, served as vice president and director of governance studies there.  In a memorial essay on the Brookings Institution website, William A. Galston, deputy director of goverance studies, wrote, “In everything he did, he was a craftsman — careful, patient, and concise.”

His wife, Katherine Stahl, said he “explored complex ideas with deceptive ease, addressing his reader in a straightforward conversational tone, with memorable turns of phrase.” He was also considered exceptional in his insistence that research centers stay focused on issues that required long-term, evidence-based responses, rather than relying on impulsive, ratings-oriented judgments. She said that he would be remembered “as a generous mentor to many interns and research assistants” and that he also would be remembered “not only for his inquisitive mind but also for the rigor of his scholarship, for his talent as a writer and editor, and not least for his impish humor and stylish elegance.”

Before he joined Brookings, Mr. Nivola was an associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont and, from 1976 to 1977, a lecturer in the department of government at Harvard University.

Pietro Salvatore Nivola was born in New York City on March 31, 1944, one of two children of the former Ruth Guggenheim and Costantino Nivola, artists who had met at art school in Italy and immigrated to New York to flee Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The couple soon moved to Springs, where in 1948 they bought a house and a barn that dated to the 1750s.

Mr. Nivola attended the Springs School and the Little Red School House in SoHo, ultimately graduating from the Pomfret School and from Harvard College in 1966. He earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a doctorate from Harvard University in 1976. In the course of his career, Mr. Nivola also was the recipient of many foundation fellowships and grants.

After he retired, Mr. Nivola followed his lifelong interest in architecture and design, restoring the family house and barn. He cherished spending time with his family and friends, both at home and on his antique wooden boat. He also was a runner and a  tennis player and, like his parents, an exceptional cook, his wife said. Conversations at their dinner parties “extended late into the night,” she said.

Mr. Nivola had two sons with his first wife, the former Virginia Davis, who survives and lives in Brooklyn. The marriage ended in divorce. In 1986 he met Katherine Stahl; they married in 1996. His stepdaughter, Asia Webber of West Newton, Mass., survives, as do his sons, Alessandro Nivola of Brooklyn and Amagansett, and Adrian Nivola of Brooklyn. A sister, Claire Nivola of Newton Highlands, Mass., also survives, as do many cousins in Sardinia and five grandchildren, whom he enjoyed taking out on his boat and teaching to fish.

Mr. Galston said Mr. Nivola expressed an artistic sensibility through his scholarship and diverse interests, with “each element carefully wrought, coming together in a full life well lived. He taught us how to live, and in his final months he taught us how to die.”

Mr. Nivola was buried in the Nivola family plot at Green River Cemetery in Springs. The family plans a private memorial at a later date. They have suggested memorial donations to the Pietro S. Nivola Internship in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, or online at

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