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Former UC Berkeley fencing coach and physical education supervisor dies at 93
28 February 2001

By Patricia McBroom

Berkeley - Julius Palffy-Alpar, a former fencing coach at the University of California, Berkeley, who was internationally known for training skilled fencers - from Olympic stars to movie stars - died Feb. 14 after a short illness. He was 93.

Palffy-Alpar was a supervisor of physical education at UC Berkeley in the former Department of Physical Education from 1962 until his retirement in 1975.

A military skiing and foil, saber and épée champion in his native country, Hungary, Palffy-Alpar taught hundreds of UC Berkeley students during his career on campus and brought the UC Fencing Team to high distinction. Several of his students qualified for Western and National Championships in the Amateur Fencers League of America.

He also developed and taught the course "Theory and Practice of Staged Combats," scripting physical combat for Hamlet, Don Juan and other dramatic productions. He did similar work for the Marin Shakespeare Festival and the American Conservatory Theater, and, at different points in his career, tutored such celebrities as Marcel Marceau and Robert Goulet.

Toward the end of his career, he devised ingenious methods for teaching fencing to the blind. Three weeks before his death, he was photographed demonstrating fencing techniques to a Kensington policewoman.

"He was an absolutely marvelous figure, a demanding teacher and a compassionate man," said Roberta J. Park, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus in the College of Letters & Science's Department of Integrative Biology. Park was Palffy-Alpar's friend and colleague.

Palffy-Alpar won the campus's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1976.

Born in Hungary in 1908, Palffy-Alpar graduated from Hungary's Toldi Miklos Institute and, in 1935, became a professor of physical education and fencing at the Hungarian Military Academy in Budapest. He was a captain in the Hungarian army until the Russian occupation in 1945.

In subsequent years, Palffy-Alpar served as director of sports at the U.S. Army Recreation Center at Garmishpartenkirchen, Germany, followed by a year of teaching at the Racing Club de France in 1948 and a position as fencing coach at the University of Toronto until 1960.

He is survived by his wife Eva, of Berkeley, and many relatives in Hungary.