Generations of students knew him as the big man on campus: the guy who brought the Jets to Hofstra University, got artificial turf installed at the football stadium, and who retired as university vice president of operations.
Dignified and professional, he was seldom seen without some sort of Marine Corps adornment — a jacket, a shirt, a cap.
But Malcolm "Jim" Fellman wasn’t your stereotypical stuffed-shirt administrator. To friends and family, he was the incorrigible jokester, troublemaker and merryman who couldn’t help himself from wanting to make people laugh.
Like the time, as a student at Hofstra, he poured vodka into a friend’s drink during a stage performance of "Fiddler on the Roof," causing his fellow performer to choke up, literally, in the middle of his song.
Like the time, later in life, he sent a middle-aged friend a letter — on Marine Corps letterhead — notifying his pal he had been recalled to active duty for Operation Desert Storm. And that the government was now demanding that the friend report to Fort Hamilton. In full uniform.
Which the friend, then north of 50, did — only to discover it was all a ruse, Fellman’s daughter Heather Johnson recalled recently.
Fellman, of Smithtown, died May 23 following complications caused by COVID-19, his family said. He was 87.
Born June 25, 1932, in Manhattan, Fellman grew up in New York City and Great Neck, the only child of Frances, a housewife, and Herman, a costume jeweler. Daughter Samantha Quattrucci said her father changed his name to Jim to avoid constant bullying from neighborhood kids who made fun of the fact he was Jewish — and who made fun of his given name, Malcolm.
“He always said he lived in a shanty Irish neighborhood, and there was no room for a Jewish boy named Malcolm,” Quattrucci said. “That’s how he became Jim.”
Not that Jim Fellman was exactly straight-laced.
He got kicked out of high school, ended up in a boarding school in Darien, Connecticut, and later got kicked out of three colleges — Boston College, Adelphi and Hofstra — before making his way to the Marine Corps. Before long he was a junior drill instructor at Parris Island. He later was stationed in Panama and after leaving the corps, found himself in the Army Reserve, a coronet player in an Army band.
He went back to school, back to then-Hofstra College, where he played football and soccer and was a member of the Epsilon Sigma fraternity and a co-founder of the then-Green Wig (later Gray Wig) repertory theater group. He graduated in 1958 and in 1981 earned his master's in business administration at Hofstra University.
In between, Fellman bounced through a host of jobs, his daughters said. He was a ranch hand, a sheriff and the manager of a spa in Miami Beach. He ran steakhouse restaurants on Long Island.
Fellman returned to Hofstra in 1968, taking a job running the school bookstore. His friendship with Weeb Ewbank, coach and general manager of the Super Bowl champion Jets, brought the team to train at Hofstra, where Fellman also fostered the installation of an artificial turf football field — one of the first four installations in the United States, according to Hofstra.
In the decades that followed, Fellman managed all aspects of campus facilities, helping bring a cogeneration plant to Hofstra. Following his retirement in 1997, he served as executive in residence at the Zarb School of Business and as the Honey and Arthur Sorin Distinguished Teaching Fellow in Business. He was honored as the Alumnus of the Year and with the Hofstra Presidential Medal in 1997.
“He could tell a joke . . . really well,” one Hofstra alum, Ken Hammer, wrote in an online post about Fellman. “He often held the attention of a room during a story and would pause to light a cigar or look everyone in the eye, forcing us to lean in, begging for the punch line.”
Former University of North Carolina quarterback Matt Kupec recalled in a letter remembering Fellman, who hired him as director of Hofstra alumni relations as a 24-year-old, that “Jim served as mentor, counselor, advisor, and friend. He had a spirit of life, a spirit of decency, and a spirit of making a difference.”
Fellman is survived by three daughters who all graduated from Hofstra, Johnson and husband Craig; Stacy Heller and husband Jack; and Quattrucci and husband Michael; and seven grandchildren.