By Michael J. ARVIZU
Longtime Glendale Community College Superintendent/President Dr. John A. Davitt passed away in May. But the sadness and sense of loss are still raw among the college’s faculty and staff.
In a semi-darkened auditorium, illuminated only by a single spotlight and a projected image of the late college leader at work in his office, faculty and staff paid a final farewell at a memorial service held Sept. 18 to the man who led the college for 21 years and was responsible for overseeing upward of $87 million worth of capital improvements to the college.
The cornerstone of those developments was the $1 million Larry and Ralph Cimmarusti gift, the largest gift to a community college at the time, which houses the science center named for the entrepreneur, state-of-the-art planetarium and NASA/JPL science education center.
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 under construction and slated to open in fall 2015.
Hawaiian music played as guests filed into the auditorium and when they left the service. Davitt enjoyed listening to Hawaiian music, his family said, and was known to take time out of his vacations to the islands to sample the native melodies.
“He provided vision for all of the academic division chairs, which filtered down to us instructors for what he wanted to do to help students succeed,” said GCC Police Dept. Chief Gary Montecuollo.
Montecuollo, a GCC alum, served as an adjunct professor for 15 years before becoming police chief.
“As a person, he always remembered my name,” Montecuollo said. “Whether it was a professional encounter years later when I became a chief, or as a personal encounter when I was a professor, I just really appreciated the fact that he remembered who I was.”
GCC history professor Gordon Alexander remembered Davitt for his ability to make everyone feel special.
“He always put people first,” Alexander said. “His door was always open. He respected those who worked at the college.”
When Davitt retired in 2006, the college “felt his absence very quickly,” said Dr. Vahé Peroomian, GCC board of trustees president. “John’s name may be just on the administration building, but I see John and his vision in every corner of this campus.”
Peroomian praised Davitt for having the foresight to use the same architect in every project. As such, the college has been lauded multiple times for its beautiful architecture, Peroomian said.
“He would always give me guidance on how to keep everything moving along in his vision,” said Dr. Jim Riggs, who served as interim superintendent/president beginning in 2012. “He really had a vision for this place. Even when he was ill, he had all sorts of energy toward this place.”
It was Davitt who encouraged Suzette Clover, now a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, to study law and become a lawyer, a profession few women pursued at the time.
Clover attended GCC in the 1970s, a time when college students were demanding a role in the educational process. Clover remembers Davitt, then the GCC dean of student affairs, for giving students a voice in that process.
“Even in discussions concerning the most controversial subjects, if you could state your argument and the reason that an idea should be tried, Dr. Davitt would listen,” Clover said. “He was never dismissive.”
Clover recalled the famous GCC streaking incident of 1974, when three students ran across the campus quad naked. It was a copycat stunt to the streaking incident that occurred at that year’s Academy Awards a few days earlier when Robert Opel ran across the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
She remembered Davitt cracking a smile shortly after the GCC incident, saying, “The appearance of all three was greatly benefited by their clothes.”
Davitt was also known for his love of motorcycles. Oliver Shokouh, owner of the Harley-Davidson of Glendale dealership, recalled Davitt’s affinity for changing out of his three-piece college administrator suit and donning his “greasy-looking biker attire,” Shokouh said, on a daily basis.
“The only acceptable color was black,” Shokouh recalled. “And regardless of how cold or hot, he always had his jacket and chaps, which included a huge belt buckle and trademark bandana.”
As a family man, Davitt was gentle and kind, said his widow, Gail Davitt – and stern, when he had to be, with his children. Most of all, Gail said, he overflowed with love for his children and grandchildren.
“He was just a joy to be with,” Gail said. “And he loved the college dearly. It was part of his family.”
Married to Davitt for 58 years, Gail said she will miss her husband’s love for the college, love for his family, and selflessness the most.
In honor of Davitt’s years of service to the college, a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the service. It will be affixed to the front entrance of the college, on the building that bears the late chief of staff’s name.
“I was privileged to know John, to be friends with John, to work with John, and thought that was the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Bart Edelman, poet and retired GCC professor of English.
Edelman helped write the inscription on the plaque.
“We will miss you. The state of California will miss you,” said Alexander. “I am a better person for having known you. Goodbye.”