Dr. John A. Davitt, 81, credited with leading Glendale Community College through a substantial period of growth in student enrollment and campus infrastructure during his 21-year tenure as superintendent and president – the longest of any sitting community college president – passed away on Saturday morning after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, college officials reported on Monday.
Davitt began his career at GCC as a history professor in 1968 and became superintendent/president in 1985. He retired in 2006.
The John A. Davitt Administration building, where the superintendent/ president’s office is located, is named in his honor.
“Glendale Community College today is a reflection of his 38 years of service as professor, dean, vice president and superintendent/president,” wrote incumbent Superintendent/President Dr. David Viar in a letter to GCC faculty and staff.
Davitt was instrumental in overseeing upward of $87 million worth of capital improvement on the campus. The cornerstone of those developments was the $1 million Larry and Ralph Cimmarusti gift, the largest gift to a community college at the time.
The gift paved the way for construction of the Cimmarusti Science Center, a NASA/JPL science education center, which houses the college’s state-of-the-art planetarium.
The gift, Davitt told the Los Angeles Times in 1999, will “improve teaching of science for the entire region. A million dollars, to be honest, for a four-year university is not that big a deal. But for us it is.”
In 2001, Davitt worked to pass Measure G, which raised $98 million for improvements to the college, including refurbishment of the college’s Garfield Campus and construction of new parking facilities to accommodate the college’s increased enrollment that, during Davitt’s tenure, rose from 10,000 to roughly 25,000 students.
Measure G improvement projects continue today, with a lab and college services building slated to open in fall 2015.
GCC Garfield Campus evening administrator Ali Kobaissi remembered Davitt as the professor who encouraged him to pursue a career in administration.
“He was all about educating the people around him,” Kobaissi said.
Kobaissi credited Davitt with helping to develop the Garfield campus from just a collection of bungalows to a modern building.
“He took a lot of pride in that campus, Kobaissi said. “He was the perfect president for a community college because he helped the community.”
Kobaissi’s brother, Nidal, a GCC alumnus and former GCC police captain, recalled Davitt being uncharacteristically nervous when then-President Bill Clinton visited the college in June 1996. At the time, Davitt was recovering from an accident he had experienced while pursuing his lifelong passion – riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“He told me [President Clinton’s visit] was the biggest thing to happen +to GCC,” Nidal said. “[Davitt] thought he was going to trip and fall and what it was going to do for the college if he did.”
For Nidal, that is Davitt’s legacy – always thinking about what’s best for the college.
Services for Davitt will be at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at St. Bede the Venerable Church, 215 Foothill Blvd. in La Cañada. A reception at Oakmont Country Club, at 3100 Country Club Drive in Glendale, will follow.