Posted by: crudbasher | July 12, 2011

Losing a Mentor and Friend

(cc) Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi

This is a very difficult post to write but I am a blogger, it’s what I do.

I work in Faculty Development at Full Sail University. For the last 2 years I have had the honor of working for Ani Gasti, the Director of Faculty Development. Unfortunately he passed away this past weekend.

We had known he was ill for about a month but didn’t realize how serious it was so this is quite a shock. I wanted to spend a few hundred words reflecting on who he was and what he meant to me.

Ani was a very rare individual. He was probably one of the kindest people I have ever known. He worked at Full Sail for over 8 years and I can honestly say there isn’t a single person here who didn’t like him. He was a very unusual boss to work for. His philosophy of management seemed to be to hire good people, tell them what needed to be done and then get out of their way while they did it. He never took personal credit for what Faculty Development did, and over the past 2 years we have done a lot. He preferred to give credit to his people.

He was inspirational and hard working. He was also very detail oriented. A coworker of mine said he was the best Editor he ever worked for. You knew that if you showed something to Ani, he would find a way to make it even better even while respecting your own work. I was always amazed at how he was able to tell someone they were wrong, but in such a way that you felt good about it and agree with him at the end.

I consider myself to be a smart person but there is much I don’t know about people and office politics. He was a master at seeing potential pitfalls. I tried to pay as much attention as I could to how he did this.

Most of all though, I remember him as a great teacher. He helped pioneer online learning at Full Sail and set the high standard we have today. Personally he was that kind of friend that would be honest with you, which is so rare today. People tend to avoid confrontation so what amazed me is the grace in which he could tell you about problems and get you to feel inspired to solve them. I learned so much from him! Just by his example I feel like I am a better person today than I was 2 years ago.

It is a very rare person who can make better everything they touch, but I think Ani had that rare gift. I know that Full Sail, the Faculty Development department, and his friends and family are all better for having known him.

I will miss him.

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Responses

  1. Well said. I had Ani as both a teacher and a co-worker. We have all suffered a great loss and he will be missed.

  2. Very well said, Andrew.

  3. I am honored to read your comments about Ani who inspired us all and made us better in so many ways. I sense that he is at peace and I wish peace also to those who are grieving the loss of this extraordinary leader.

  4. Ani was…is…my brother. He loved working for Full Sail. He loved his cohorts. And I see he was loved by them, too. Thank you for your beautiful words and sharing your thoughts. They mean a great deal to our family and offer strong support at this difficult time. My brother, Ani, was a special man.

    • Hi, Chris:

      I am stunned to hear of Ani’s death. I was one of his professors at UVa and directed him in a production of Kiss me Kate as well as some smaller events we worked on together. I agree totally with you that Ani was a special man. We kept in touch for several years while he was in New York and went to the theatre together a number of times. I was pleased to be able to write recommendation letters for him on a couple of occasions. He was always great fun to be with and I admired his ambition and ability. To see what he has done and accomplished in his all too short life only bears out any expectations we might have had for him. That he has died just now also touches me in that my wife died just a year ago so I well understand how all of you feel. You and your family, some of whom I met over the years, have my deepest sympathy, Ani will definitely be missed.

      • Mr. Weiss,
        Thank you for sharing the connection you had with Ani. I know that he cherished his years at UVA. No doubt, many of his fond memories with thru the theater. My mother remarked last week that she had seen your production of Kiss Me, Kate and was proud to see Ani “on the boards”. She was also reading thru several of the letters of recommendations that he received over the years; I will have to find out if yours are among them. Tomorrow it will be two weeks since he past. Not enough time to finish our grieving. A year wouldn’t be enough time. And for that reason, my family and I would like to send our deepest condolences to you on the loss of your wife.
        Time heals everything…but in both cases it will be a long time. We go on living to honor them.

  5. Although not related by blood, Ani was as close to being a brother to me as one can be. His focus and ability to reason were constant inspirations to me. He had a remarkable ability to make people feel good, if not better, about themselves after interacting with them on both personal and professional levels. His joy of knowledge for knowledge sake was one we shared; his joy of laughter was one he spread. I will never forget how he could say so much by just listening. I will miss that but will always have that to cherish. A bientot, mon ami.

  6. About 25 years ago, while a first-year student in the Drama department at UVA, I ran into a guy with the oddest-sounding name one evening in the green room. For the next four years, Ani and I were friends, and ultimately flatmates. We studied Spanish and Italian together, laughed together, pulled all-nighters together, danced together, and occasionally (well, more than occasionally) got drunk together. At that time neither one of us could have predicted where our lives would take us — academically, personally, geographically — and we ended up all over the map in multiple senses, but kept in touch along the way and rejoiced in each other’s accomplishments as we grew from college kids to adults. The memories of our years as ‘youngsters’ have been haunting me benignly since I heard of his death — they are good memories, and will stay with me, but they are from so long ago and far away that it warms me to read the more recent thoughts written here. All my best wishes and sympathy to Ani’s family and friends,

    Christina Villafaña Dalcher

  7. Thank you for sharing these words, Andrew. A beautiful tribute, to a beautiful soul.

  8. Thank you all for contributing your thoughs to this post. I would also like to offer my condolences to Chris, Ani’s brother and the rest of his family. I hope you can take some comfort in knowing how much he meant to all of us that worked with him. He was special and we will never forget him.

  9. Thank you, Andrew. Our family is so sorry for your loss as well.

  10. Thank you, Andrew, for putting into such eloquent words what all of us who had the pleasure to know Ani feel in our hearts. Ani hired me to teach when I had absolutely no teaching experience. He told me he could teach me how to teach, but wanted me to bring my industry expertise to this new Internet Marketing program. I was nervous, to say the least. But, as you know, Ani had a way of making anyone feel comfortable and confident, and he supported all of us in taking our industry knowledge and turning it into a class curriculum. He was always a consummate leader, and a fun-loving one at that. I have a very distinct memory of one of the many times that Ani moved offices in our Building 5 and, in cleaning out his office, he brought over hula hoops he had in his office (what?) and we all hula hooped in the hallway, Ani included. What a fun memory of a wonderful person. I’m glad I have that. He will be missed by many.

    • I love it Diane! You really captured a lot of aspects of him. I too remember how easy he was to be around. I think he had a kind of casual grace that most people don’t have. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  11. I had the gift of spending time with Ani during his LA and NY years. There are so many memories, and this is just one among the many adventures we had together. It was when we set out on a quest to discover our passions in life (in hopes of finding our next career move). Ani of course was very methodical in his approach and bought various books on the subject and tediously did all the exercises required. I benefited in getting the verbal cliffnotes from him, lazy as I was. He then stumbled onto a super expensive and extensive 2 day hands-on, skills assessment program (ie. myers briggs on steroids, with IQ and puzzles to boot). We were both anxious to find out what his results were as we’d hope it’d be the oracle to point him in the right direction. Well, the founder of this program called him in and said he had to meet with Ani personally. In all his years, he never saw anyone scored off the charts in every category. Simply put, he was good at everything. In the end, Ani chose Education and I know for the first time in his life, he found it truly fulfilling. Ani made a huge imprint in all our lives and the best part of him will forever live in our hearts.

    • Hey Monica, thank you so much for contributing your thoughts! I laughed when I saw that Ani aced the aptitude test. I’m not suprised though. He really was very talented at many things. I only hope we can carry on with his work at Full Sail in a way that would make him proud.

  12. You nailed it. It was my pleasure to work with Ani at Full Sail as well; for a while he was my department chair, and he was one of the kindest and most professional people I have ever worked one. I especially remember how when I had a particular concern one day he took the time to talk with me, and we spent more than an hour in his office. Somehow he always seemed to know what to say. He was brilliant and will be sorely missed.

  13. Andrew, thanks for this blog entry. The more I learn about Ani through all of these stories, the more I love and admire him. I’m reminded by all of this that I should not take the people that I come into contact with for granted – ever.

  14. I’m an old friend of Ani’s from UVA, one that was lucky enough to see him somewhat regularly over the years. The last time was May 2010, when my husband and I stayed at his lovely home for a night while visiting family in Orlando. Besides going to museums and shopping around, Ani took great pleasure in showing us the different Full Sail locations and talking about his work. Because he was so talented at so many things, he’d had a hard time “settling” on any one vocation over the years, but it seemed to me that he’d really found his calling. I’m grateful his work life was so rich and supportive for such a long time. I also send my thoughts and prayers to his family, and to his friends all over the country that are in pain over the loss of this amazing man.

  15. Beautifully written Andrew. Ani will most certainly be missed. He was one of a kind.

  16. I love Ani. One day this week a butterfly was very persistently staying around, and I knew it was Ani saying hello. I thought it might be too painful to write this, because I tend to heal privately … and I think Ani was that way too. I was just going to tell him privately, but I want the world to know how amazing he was. What a tremendous loss it is to anyone who brushed against him to now find him gone. My friends and family knew who Ani was because I would relay the funny things he said. Just thinking about it before telling them, I would start laughing, and then the story would follow. When I told them he died, they were in shock and yet they barely knew him. He was one of the most talented, gracious, and capable people I ever met. It’s not enough to describe him with a few adjectives, yet a list of all of them would appear inauthentic. It’s usually a cliché, but I never knew anyone who didn’t think he was special. Not just that they liked him, but found him to be wonderful! I finally came out of my own despair yesterday and began to realize how many people were affected by losing Ani. I know his parents, siblings, and friends outside of Full Sail are also struggling with this loss, and I send my love and prayers to them.

  17. So happy to read the many beautiful stories about someone we all cherished and will never forget… I know we are all inspired to become the best we can be, and make him proud… Hugs and love to everyone.

  18. Thank you, Andrew, for sharing this. So many of us were fortunate to know Ani. Like he did with editing projects, he left his indelible mark on every person who knew him. Ani inspired people to be their best, and I, for one, am very grateful for that.

  19. Andrew, this is so well written. Every word is so true. I was thinking the other day that I know that everyone liked Ani. He was such a great person. One of my favorite people ever to work with. I miss him so much and have found myself at a loss this week, realizing how many times I would have reached out to him. He was a great, kind and gracious man.

  20. It is so remarkable to read all of these kind remembrances, not having seen Ani since 1987, and recognize in them the man I knew in Charlottesville, who was already, as a twenty-year-old person, singular in his capacity for listening and empathizing. You could see his big heart in every facial expression, even from a distance. He could always dream of a solution, always find a way to turn difficult circumstances into opportunities for growth, both personal and political. And I loved that he had a bird name, Ani. I loved that he brought humor and humility into situations that always needed them. Thanks to all for remembering him here – how marvelous to learn that his work after college continued to be as uncommonly wonderful as it was in the 1980s. Ned Brinkley

  21. One of the first people I met here at FS ten months ago was Ani. He presented the FSO 1 and 2 workshops. I remember that he said his name rhymes with something, but since Ani was pretty easy to remember, I’ve forgotten the other word!

    I can only speak about what I know from my interactions with him, but I found that he was a very relaxed, cheerful sort of fellow. I am always keen to present, and when I asked Ani about the opportunity to present a Harry Potter workshop during the Summer Break, he was extremely encouraging. I followed up a month later, and he said, “I’m so glad!” I looked for him and had hoped he would come to the presentation, but alas, that was not meant to be.

    I agree with a previous posting: Ani had an elegance about him. After reading the kind messages above, I know that if ever I have heard of a real-life story about someone ‘following their bliss’ as encouraged by Joseph Campbell, I believe Ani did. He is someone who inspires rainbows by the merest contact. I am very fortunate to have known him.

  22. What a great tribute for a great man, he will be missed,

  23. Dear Andrew,
    I’m finally getting a moment to thank you again for including your thoughts about Ani in your blog. All of the comments have been a great source of comfort to my parents and the rest of the family. You may have noticed that some of your words as well as those who left messages here were included in his obituary in the Orlando Sentinel. The words of Ani’s colleagues and friends are a fitting tribute to all he was…Perhaps we’ll get the chance to meet you in person at the arts festival being put together by Full Sail on Friday, Sept. 9th…Much success to you in all your endeavors.
    -Chris

    • Hi Chris,

      I hope this page has helped in some small way during this difficult time. I regret that I will be out of the state that Friday. I am going to a wedding that has been planned for a long time so I can’t change my plans. I think what is planned is going to be great and I know Ani would have approved.

      Take care,
      Andrew

  24. I had the pleasure and honor of working with Ani for a short time at UVa in 1993-94. I just read about his passing yesterday, and my heart is very heavy with the news. So much of what you said about Ani sounds incredibly familiar — he was a wonderful person and fantastic boss, and his gentle, witty sense of humor was like none other. Peace and love to all of Ani’s family and friends mourning his loss. He will be dearly missed.

    • Thank you very much Mark for contributing your thoughts!!


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