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Chaparral 2014-2015: 23.1 Dr. John A. Davitt Tribute

Dr. John A. Davitt Tribute (October 2014)

Dr. John A. Davitt Tribute

March 9, 1933 - May 24, 2014


The news of Dr. John Davitt’s passing was met with what seemed truly to be a stunned silence when it was announced on the Glendale College email list on the morning of Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Dr. Davitt was on campus just a few weeks prior attending the annual Retirement/Recognition Luncheon on May 14.

Dr John Davitt"John Davitt gazes out his office window, reflecting on his 21-year presidency."  Photo by Jane Pojawa, 2006. Reprinted with permission from El Vaquero.

After 2 days, one mourning email was sent to the community by a professor emeritus and friend of Dr. Davitt’s. Within hours, the GCC email list was flooded with sentiments and stories about Dr. Davitt. Chaparral has secured permission to reproduce much of that deeply moving email chain here.

From: Mona Field
Sent: Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:37 AM
To: gcc
Subject: Dr. Davitt, may he rest in peace

I am sure I speak for many when I say that Dr. John Davitt was a major mentor to me, a man who gave me an opportunity to start a fulltime career and who advised and guided me throughout my years at Glendale College and beyond.

He truly loved our college family, our students and the community. His passion for redeeming souls was not only his religion but his practice in daily life.  I am sure John believed in heaven, and I am sure he is there!

Mona Field (GCC employee 1983-2008)


From: Mike Eberts

Thanks for starting things off, Mona. ‬

‪The lack of email response to John Davitt's passing is both understandable and a little unnerving.‬

‪My sense is that younger faculty and staff didn't have a chance to know Dr. Davitt and those of us who are older don't know where to begin.‬

‪John Davitt created a unique workplace where he honestly considered college employees to be his extended family. It led to an unusually nurturing and somewhat informal environment. From his fatherly advice to his gentle but dogged insistence that we all contribute to the Patron's Fund, I felt that there was someone powerful and benevolent I could go to if something was wrong.‬ ‪If was an honor to serve under him.‬


Dr. John Davitt at the GCC 75th anniversary gala on September 28, 2003


From: Teresa Cortey

Unnerving, perhaps, but sometimes people do not express their intense emotions publicly. Since you may feel few cared, Mike, let me depart from my own tradition and express my deep grief by REPLY ALL email. Dr. Davitt was an impeccable Administrator, a true Educator: it was not only his view of a serious, classic education that he tirelessly strove to achieve at Glendale College –the Dreyer’s Ice Cream Theory, he called it jokingly and perhaps inaccurately, because excellence is not frivolous or sweet but unnecessary like ice cream –it was his humanity, his genuine caring for the many individuals who comprise this collectivity that made him unique. He had an immense heart and left a legacy of love –he loved us all, and he was greatly loved in return. I certainly, like you and many others, will miss him.

As a married man who lived life to the fullest, enjoying food and leisure, friendships and family affections, Dr. Davitt does not meet the criteria the Catholic Church has established for sainthood, but he was my idea of a saint: totally good, innocent in his tendency to believe the best of everyone, and to substitute forgiveness and love for resentment and jealousy. He brought out the best in all of us. He made our part of the world a better place.

From: Ali Kobaissi

That was beautiful Mona, he was a mentor to most of us, and always happy to help me whenever I asked for advise. I'm sure he's riding his Harley in heaven. He will always be loved, and already missed.

Dr. John Davitt with Paul Schlossman and Alen Andrassian

From: Alen Andriassian

I spoke to Dr. Davitt the day before he passed away. He called because he was trying to help a student. Until his last day, he was helping others. Dr. Davitt supported me from when I was student, and words fall short of what he means to me. 

From: Andra Verstraete

I have a file full of letters, memos and thank-you notes from Dr. Davitt expressing his appreciation for my work. I know that I’m not the only one on campus with such a file. He was not only a kind and loving man, but truly a great leader who recognized everybody’s unique talents and contributions to this college. I used to see him outside from my second floor window in the San Rafael Building picking up trash, or encouraging the students who were playing cards outside to ‘go to class’. He took the time to know all of us and always asked about our families…our kids. He was a beautiful man.

From: Nare Garibyan

I am a recent addition as a professional on campus, as an adjunct academic counselor and I did not have the opportunity to work with Dr. Davitt. But even from my GCC student days, I remember him and I know what he means for GCC. At the recent retirement party, in honor of Sandy Lee, Dr. Davitt made his way up to the microphone and so eloquently spoke about Sandy's work and the purpose of student services. He ended his talk with reminding everyone to love and respect each other within the GCC family. He was not afraid to show his genuine and raw emotion at the celebratory event. 

Dr. Davitt, may you rest in peace. I send my heart felt condolences to his family, close friends, and the GCC community.


From: Jessica Gillooly

Dr. John Davitt –An Irish Catholic Feminist

As I read the many personal remembrances of Dr. Davitt, I was struck by how many of us have a deep appreciation of his dedication and love for the students and GCC employees. There was one aspect of John, however, that I thought needed to be mentioned… Dr. Davitt the practicing Feminist.

When I first meet Dr. Davitt, I do not believe he was quite yet a Feminist, but more like a Feminist-in-the-Making. The story goes that I was hired as an adjunct in the fall 1980. I was extremely fortunate that both Jeanne Cunningham of the Psychology Department and Dr. Patricia Lienhard (soon to be named as the Vice President of Student Services) took me under their wings.

In the early 1980’s the women on campus were embracing the Women’s Second Wave Movement. We were developing courses entitled Women in Literature, Women in US History, Psychology of Women and other courses were to follow. We worked together to support each other’s vision for our contribution to GCC. The women on the Board of Trustees also came to our support and encouraged us to be more than faculty for our students, but to see ourselves as educators to the community at large.

Each step along the way, Dr. Davitt was there. Sometimes with that quizzical look of his, sometimes just a shrug, but he always showed up to our events and there were many events in those days. He talked about our conferences that we held on campus and in the community. He found money when we asked and same times when we didn’t enough know to ask. 

When I look back I wonder how we did all the events we did. Most of us had young children and a full work load, but we piled on more ways to learn and to teach. I wonder how Dr. Davitt did it. How did he constantly show up and embrace our events, our growth into our Feminist beliefs that women and men are to be treated equally? But he did show up year after year.

I know that we had other people who were also encouraging him to be all that he could be. Thanks to the efforts of Gael, John’s wonderfully sharing wife, their daughters, granddaughters, Jeanne, Pat, and all the other determined women in his life. Dr. Davitt became a dedicated practicing Feminist. Please understand that John’s strong Irish Catholic upbringing would never allow him to embrace all the tenants of Feminism, but his leadership role in hiring, promoting, and encouraging the personal development of so many women here at GCC is a great part of his legacy.

Under Dr. Davitt’s leadership we created our Adult Reentry program, equally beneficial for both women and men. He found the money to send many of the GCC women faculty and staff to the Leadership Conferences in Asilomar, California where we got to meet women from other community colleges across California and to develop our leadership skills. More importantly, at least for me, was that we met other female leaders from different areas of the GCC campus. We had time to get to know each other in meaningful ways that allowed us to support each other when we returned to Glendale. He also sent us to the California Women’s Leadership Conference held each year in Long Beach. We gave presentations, were panel representatives, and rubbed elbows with our women legislators and other civic leaders.

Jeanne Cunningham, naturally and good-heartedly, never quite let him or us forget that he had to grow and learn along with the rest of us. But Dr. Davitt learned his lessons well and a Feminist he became. 

For the past 30 years he personally supported every women’s event that I can think of that we the Women of GCC asked for his help. And in his last days, he had Peggy Renner and me to his and Gael’s home to discuss his new ideas for this coming Women’s History Month.

Dr. John Davitt not only laid the foundations for many of the beautiful buildings that grace our campus but he also laid the foundations necessary to ensure that every female student, every female staff worker and every female faculty member has the opportunity to reach our full potential not only here at GCC but also throughout our lives.


Bill Clinton, Dr. John Davitt, and Hazel Ramos

From: Andy Young

I find myself lacking the words to express the loss I feel now that Dr. Davitt has passed. I still can’t quite believe that we will never have lunch together again. That I will never run into him at another campus event. He was president when I had to leave GCC in 1989 for health reasons. He was still president when I returned in Spring 2003. During my final interview in Fall 2002, he acted like he had been hoping I would return to the college. He made it seem like I was coming home again. He had a gentle grace and optimistic outlook that inspired the people around him to do more than they might have achieved on their own. I never wanted to disappoint him, and I hope that I did not. He had encouraged me to consider becoming Senate president years ago, and I am actually sad that he won’t be here when I take on that role in another month. It has been a little difficult coming to work this week, or staying focused on my work when I am here. Too many things remind me of him. I will miss him very much.

From: Emelyn Judge

Always a staunch supporter of the nursing program, Dr. Davitt had a chance to come to our nurse pinning ceremony last December. He was ecstatic and almost cried that we actually remembered to introduce him to the audience at the beginning of the ceremony could we forget such a man! After his retirement, he would come to visit, always with one of our nursing graduates who took care of him in tow. He often asked how we were and always showed interest and concern.

On a personal note, when I was new at GCC, I saw a guy with grey silver hair picking trash off the ground....I later learned that it was Dr. Davitt. He cared about many people and many things, and especially Glendale Community College! We will always remember him!

From: Ramona Barrio-Sotillo

I would also like to add to something to what Mariah and others mentioned and that is Dr. Davitt’s personal knowledge of something important in our lives. When I would run into him at an event, he would always ask about my sons and my family. He also would take an interest in my future endeavors. Each time I would see him, including this last time at the Recognition Luncheon, he would ask me how I was doing in my new position, if I was enjoying it and what I would like to do in the future. I felt he really did care and wasn’t just making small talk.

I will also miss his annual, personal notes for the Patron’s Club fundraisers. His handwritten comments such as “Don’t forget I wrote that letter of recommendation for the doctoral program at USC Dr. Barrio-Sotillo!” would remind me to write that check.

Dr. Davitt was GCC and he will be sorely missed by those of us, like me, that remember him fondly.

Rest in Peace Dr. Davitt..Or as he would often remind me to address him, John.

Dr. John Davitt with Sandy Lee and Joe Puglia 

From: Sandy Lee

Mahalo Nui Loa and Aloha Oe to Dr. Davitt,

Thank you very much for all you have done for us, Dr. Davitt. You are most likely still listening to us, as we all remember you.

Dr. John Davitt hired me as a Counselor at Glendale College 38 years ago in 1976. He was my Professor at Cal. State LA while in my Higher Education Counseling Master’s degree program. John was the Dean of Student Services at GCC, while Dr. Harold Cochrane was the Dean of Counseling , Dr. John Grande was the President, Dr. Ivan Jones was the Dean of Instruction and Dr. Patricia Lienhard was the Coordinator of the Adult Re-entry New Horizons Program ( the Associate Dean of Student Support Services and the VP of Student Services). Many of our GCC Counselors went through the Master's program at Cal. State LA with John as their mentor and role model. He was a champion of our Student Services Program and always emphasized Counselors being change agents and advocates for our students.

At my retirement party 3 weeks ago, both John and Gael attended. They stayed for 3 hours and enjoyed the Hawaiian luau with 100 other Student Services Division Members, Classified staff, and Instructional Faculty. They took home scrapbooks from Steve Marsden and my retirement parties, with 38 years of Counselors, Student Services and Instructional Faculty, as well many of the Classified Staff photos, He and Gael thoroughly enjoyed looking at the scrapbooks, recalling all the many memories over the years - our GCC leaders in the Guild and Senate, the Prop 13 era some of us went through, the fun parties and faculty who have retired. They looked through the 3 scrapbooks not once, but twice! John a scrapbook loved the scrapbook I made him when he retired! After all, he was so proud of his ‘GCC Family’.

At my retirement party, my husband, Math Instructor, Steve Marsden described how he met me on the first day I began my career (on Faculty Institute Day) and that we bought a house before we were married, living “in sin” for 7 years. Dr. Davitt never failed to ask us during those years , “When are you two getting married?” He encouraged us to make it official. When John spoke at my retirement party, he shared with all of us that he was very happy we decided not to live "in sin". 

John would always ask Steve and me about our family and 3 daughters. Steve and I grew up with Dr. Davitt - he would see them at all the after Graduation Guild parties. It seemed he didn’t forget anything about our family. He remembered exactly which colleges our daughters attended, as well as their majors.

John loved to vacation in Maui and show off his nice tan when he returned to the mainland. Being from Hawaii, I enjoyed talking about his experiences. He even asked me what I thought about the possibility of him landing a job as a College President in Hawaii!

John had an impact on all our lives and careers. Steve and I will surely miss him.

From: Joe Denhart

Dear GCC Family, I am saddened, as you are, to hear of the passing of Dr. John Davitt. I knew it was coming but did not expect it so soon. The last time I talked to him was on January 22, 2013. Yes, it was in response to the Patrons Scholarship Fund. I agree with Mona that Dr. Davitt was my boss, my colleague, my mentor, my friend, and a very brave man. Like Alen mentioned, he continued his love and devotion to the college and the community right to the end, in spite of his debilitating illness.

John Davitt served as CEO of Glendale College for 21 years and a total of 38 years of distinguished service at the college. During his tenure the face of GCC changed dramatically. His unabashed optimism and desire for excellence made GCC one of the premiere educational institutions in the state. It is not only a quality academic institution that has seen more than 300,000 students benefit from a GCC education while he was at the helm, but it is also a beautiful and modern campus that he delighted in.

But to me, his real legacy was in how he treated the people who worked for him, his GCC family. Dr. Davitt took a personal interest in GCC employees. He talked to and appreciated everyone. He knew that if the college was to succeed, we had to work together as a team. Like Andra, I always received little notes from his thanking me for something or appreciating something I may have done in the community while representing the college. Every once in a while, he would drop in on my class at the Life Skills Bldg. and say hello to my students and asked if they were enjoying the class. Thank God they said yes! Later that day he would drop a note in my mailbox saying how much he appricated visiting my class. I don't think that was common just to me. I saved those notes and kept them. Every once in a while when I was having a bad day, feeling that I didn't belong at the college, or doubting myself, I would pull out his notes and read them. They never failed to help me see myself more clearly. I learned an important lesson from him: That most of us (in general, not to include those who wrote above) have a tendency to think well of others but never tell them while they are with us. We have a tendency to wait until they are gone to say what we really think of them. He taught me that unspoken praise or gratitude benefits no one. I loved to compliment him and he always seemed surprised by what I had to say. I think he enjoyed hearing from me as I did from him. 

I know that those of us who were here during Dr. Davitt's tenure will take away many lessons of life that he taught us, but I hope that all of us will remember to praise one another, thank one another, and be concerned for each other while we are still here.

Video produced by John Gardner and Scott Stalnaker in 2006 chronicles Dr. Davitt's accomplishments in regard to the development and beautification of the Glendale Community College campus during his tenure.

From: Vera Paragouteva

He knew me and called me by name before I knew him at all.  He always asked about my family and had tears in his eyes for my oldest daughter who still lived in Bulgaria waiting for years for the green card.  His office door was always open for everyone who needed to share or just chat for a while.  He made me feel very important and I felt  as a daughter to him. Does an immigrant need something more to fall in love with the people and the college this great man was the president for?
Thank you, Dr. Davitt!
Thank you, my American father!
Rest in peace.

From: Mike Petros

I'm very saddened by John's passing. I got to know him when I first worked at GCC as a media dept. technician in 1976. John was instrumental in persuading me to pursue teaching here and was supportive of everything we tried to accomplish. I would not have had this amazing career were it not for Dr. Davitt.

Dr. John Davitt's Retirement

From: Richard Seltzer

I join the chorus in offering my condolences to John's family, and to all of us at GCC who knew him for so long and miss his caring, "old-school," avuncular leadership style.What I respected most about John (and always will) was his humanity. Like myself and the rest of us, he was not perfect. We had a few moments of conflict, and each time, we overcame them. His deep personal faith guided all his choices in dealing with people. The quality of a long-term relationship was much more important to him than a little skirmish along the way. The memory of the way he treated me after my father died suddenly in 1988 will always stick with me. He left me feeling that should there be the need to be back east for a period of time to deal with a family emergency or any other unexpected reason, that he would always do everything legal to be sure my job was secure. So, when I say "old-school," I mean that he was the kind of leader who took care of his people....the way a leader should. I'm reminded of when the late speaker of the House, Tip O'neil (another spirited and witty Irish elder with great people skills) died, a news announcer said, "Bring your kids to the tv and show them all these clips. We will never see this again." in peace...... we know we will never see the likes of you again. In my faith tradition, we say "May his memory be for a blessing.."

From: Melita Baumann

I, too, have wondered when messages would begin coming in re the passing of our very dear Dr. Davitt. Speaking on a personal note, I certainly realized he was very ill. The possibility of his leaving, however, was put out of mind. Everyone has said it - he was always there! The door to his office was open. The first questions always, "How are you? How's the family? What do you need?" If I received a phone call from him, it was out of concern for a student, and how GCC could help and support him/her! It IS sad to no longer have Dr. Davitt with me (us), but good memories remain - a huge legacy!

Dr. John Davitt with Saodat Aziskhanova

From: Jayne Campbell

Dr. Davitt retired after my first year at GCC: here is how I will remember him:

His cheerful greeting whenever we passed on the campus.... His smile when the Chamber Singers performed at the annual Christmas retiree luncheon.... The way he would "tear up" when we sang the alma mater...... surrounding him with a male chorus... These will be my fondest memories.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” -Flavia Weedn

From: Abe Barakat

Fond farewell Dr. Davitt ,
I last saw Dr. D at the recognition luncheon two weeks ago, always looking up at me with those caring and as of late tearful eyes. Wondering what the heck have I been up to now. (I think?) as always with a "Hello Abe how are you?". It's kind of like seeing your parents as their health and time have sapped them of their energy as you knew them to have. Funny the one memory that sticks in my mind was as he threw me out of his office when I was President of union as I had presented him with a petition signed by a gaggle of classified employees as the heating system had failed in the administration building and what was he going to do about it. Dr. Davitt as we all discovered one way or another cared for each and every person who worked at GCC and continued to leave us his legacy after he left as President/Superintendent and still will always be with us well into the future of GCC. 

With tears in my eyes and sadness in my heart I say Bye Dr. D. Your memory will always be with me.

Dr. John Davitt and Levon Marashlian

From: Levon Marashlian

Saturday at John's funeral, when I saw the Davitt clan, all his grown children and grandchildren, it reminded me of something he told me several times during the years after he hired me in 1980 (though he was a dean and not the president at the time). With his arm around my shoulder, for example once after we had lunch, he would urge me to have children soon, with comments like: "Don't you want to be young enough to run and play ball with them when they grow up?" He cared enough to give me that good advice--an example of how he was always caring and helpful to me, like to so many others, and not only in the sphere of professional affairs on campus. In addition to being my "boss," which is what I sometimes called him, he was also like a father or older brother.

Eventually--almost 30 years after he first gave me his advice--when I told him the good news that I had 2 new daughters, he was so happy! And when I told him that I should have followed his advice a lot sooner, he came back with a typical Davitt-style wry remark. And of course, whenever I saw him during the recent difficult years, he would always ask about them.

I share the thoughts and feelings expressed so well already by so many faculty and staff and the Trustees. And I'll miss hearing his voice saying "call my office, let's have lunch."

Plaque honoring Dr. John Davitt, unveiled at the memorial on September 18

From: Henan Joof

My last interaction with Dr. Davitt is very telling of the man he was .

Last week Friday right around 12:15pm I got what would be my last call from Dr. Davitt. In true Davitt fashion he started off by asking how it was that I came to be hired at GCC and that someone in HR must be doing something wrong :)

He proceeded to share his concern about a student who was facing multiple obstacles in registering for summer classes (at Glendale High School mind you) and wanted my input on how to assist the student. At the time I had a student in my office and so after a few probing questions I asked him to send the student my way, first thing Tuesday morning. (I have been staring at the Post It note I wrote myself with the students' information).

I was amazed at how sharp and caring he still was and was honored that he thought of me to help. Before hanging up, he asked about ME! He never failed to do that.

Looking back I realize that my drive at work of wanting to guide students "personally" through the matriculation steps, stems from the experience I had while I was a student here at GCC...which Dr. Davitt instituted, promoted, expected and exemplified EVERYDAY.

I will miss him. I will continue to carry his torch for students and I will keep this picture of him; because he was a visionary & saw in me the ability to be great long before I even knew who I was.

Rest in Peace Dr. D.


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