FIU family bids final farewell to Paul Gallagher

Paul Gallagher's daughter and wife, Jenny and Jo, are flanked by son-in-law Nick Rau and FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg.

Paul Gallagher’s daughter and wife, Jenny and Jo, are flanked by son-in-law Nick Rau and FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg.

They flew in from Washington, D.C., New York City and London. They left conferences early and came back to campus for the first time in years. The family, friends, colleagues and former employees of Paul Gallagher, an iconic figure in FIU history, gathered Oct. 11 at a Celebration of Life event for the man whose passion for FIU was exceeded only by his love for his family.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to see so many people from across the decades from our FIU here today,” said President Mark B. Rosenberg to the hundreds in attendance.

Gallagher passed away in July 2013 at the age of 68 after a brief battle with cancer.

More than a dozen speakers, some in video and others in person, shared memories of Gallagher. Founding faculty member Steve Fain told the crowd how he stood at the end of a runway with Gallagher in 1971, having flown in from New York for an interview at South Florida’s newly established university, and found himself caught up in the dream that was FIU. “I was sweating profusely as we’re gazing out onto this abandoned airport,” said Fain, chuckling at the memory. “Paul told me, ‘Picture a great university on this site.’ And I did. His passion was contagious.”

Steve Altman, who served in several leadership capacities at FIU from 1972 to 1985 and today is president of the Newschool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, told of a weekly meet-up he, Gallagher and others had for years in the Rathskeller over beers.

“By the end of each session, there was a checkerboard of napkins, replete with notes and diagrams, that contained our dreams for FIU,” Altman said. “We respected greatly President Perry’s vision, but we wanted more. We had our own dreams beyond President Perry’s vision.”

“Paul was a great teacher, in the classroom and in the boardroom,” he added.

A recurring theme throughout all of the remarks was Gallagher’s kindness, both in word and deed. “One of the things I will remember most about him is how he always said thank you, to everyone,” said Alex Zyne, who started at FIU as a high school intern and finally retired after 41 years of service to the university. Zyne lost his father at a relatively early age and said he considered Gallagher a father figure.

It was that ability to connect with others that brought out Esperanza de la Torre, who retired from FIU in August 2013 as senior custodial supervisor in Facilities Management after 34 years of service. When asked why she was there, de la Torre said simply, “He was a very kind man. Very honest, very polite. He was very loved.”

“He had an intense value of relationships,” said son-in-law Nick Rau.

“He was such a good friend,” said Terence “Terry” Kelly, former president of Miami-Dade College’s North Campus, who attended the event. Kelly knew Gallagher for decades and was at FIU’s dedication ceremony in 1972. “He always made me feel at home. I couldn’t miss this day. I couldn’t miss it.”

Click here to read some of the memories shared by those who knew Gallagher and consider themselves lucky to have been a part of his life.