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June 28, 2007

Obituary: Brenda J. Pardini

Brenda J. Pardini, associate vice president for Student Life at Pitt-Johnstown, died June 7, 2007, of ovarian cancer. She was 53.

During her 27-year career at Pitt, Pardini held various student-oriented positions on both the Pittsburgh campus and, for the past nine years, on the Johnstown campus.

Jon Gonder, associate vice president for Academic Affairs at UPJ, said that Pardini worked on many projects that have had a significant impact at Pitt-Johnstown, including the development of a first-year seminar course, UPJ’s first living/learning community, a leadership development program and a number of support programs designed to help and retain at-risk students.

“One of Brenda’s greatest strengths was her belief in teamwork, and she had the ability to work with any constituency within the University in order to bring about improvement to the student experience,” Gonder said. “Her understanding of student development theory and how to meld academic, social and residential programming was exemplary, and she has left a legacy of having built many good things at UPJ.”

Former Pittsburgh campus Student Affairs administrator Gary Houston said, “I was fortunate to know Brenda, both as a friend and a colleague, throughout her career at the University and worked with her both at Oakland and UPJ. She was a caring professional who found her true vocation in student services. Perhaps one of her greatest contributions to the University was when she was responsible for the orientation program. She recognized the unique needs of the African-American students and devised a program that worked in conjunction with orientation in addressing and meeting minority students’ needs. She did a great deal in assisting that population in becoming a vital part of the student body.”

Friends, co-workers and former students commented on Pardini’s dedication to her family, her job and, especially, to the students with whom she had contact.

“Brenda and I served as colleagues in Student Affairs over the years but became very close friends when we both became mothers within six months of each other,” said Georgine Materniak of the Pittsburgh campus Division of Student Affairs. “We helped each other through those times when, as working mothers juggling families and careers, we questioned if we were doing the right thing. Brenda also was the most direct, frank and to-the-point person I know. You always knew where you stood with her. You know she cared. You know she spoke the truth. Her strength and courage saw her through the toughest test of any parent, the sudden loss of their son, Luke, this past Thanksgiving. She faced her cancer with the same dignity, directness and determination. I will miss Brenda terribly. She will always have a very special place in my life and in my heart.”

“Brenda was a dear friend, mentor and colleague,” said Maureen Lazar, emerging leaders program coordinator at the Pittsburgh campus, who met Pardini in 1997 as a student. “Through her example, I was inspired to pursue a career in student affairs where I now directly affect the lives of college students, as Brenda did mine. I have never known a stronger woman in my life. Brenda is a true inspiration for all women.”

Kristin Scott, Pitt Class of 1990, who is associate director of college counseling at Shady Side Academy, worked with Pardini as a mentor and student coordinator during Scott’s undergraduate days.

“Back in those days, Brenda’s entire staff was made up of students and she knew how to find the very best in each one of us,” Scott said.

“She believed in us and what we could accomplish, and that made us believe in ourselves. We worked hard, but coming to work every day was so much fun because she was so enthusiastic and positive. As an educator myself, Brenda will always serve as inspiration to me professionally and personally and I will carry her in my heart forever.”

Bill Swisher worked with Pardini as a student coordinator for four years beginning in 1990. “During that time, Brenda taught me there was just as much to learn outside of the classroom as within,” Swisher said. “It was through my friendship with Brenda that I developed my love for higher education and learned of the professional opportunities that existed among university communities. Outside of my family, no one has had a greater positive impact on my life. I wasn’t the only one. Brenda touched the lives of hundreds of students. It’s what she did.”

UPJ’s Mary Claire Furman said, “Brenda was not only my immediate supervisor, she was also my best friend. She had a wonderful balance of working hard but also knowing how to relax. The most important things in her life were her sons and her husband. She was totally devoted to her family. She also never lost the wonder of working with young students. I will miss her wisdom. I watched her deal with this terrible illness these last few years, and through it all she never became bitter or asked ‘Why me?’ She died the way she lived, with tremendous dignity.”

UPJ police chief Kevin Grady said he was privileged to have known and worked with Pardini. “I can honestly say I have never worked with a colleague who was so blessed with the ability to understand a problem no matter how simple or critical it was and find a solution without offending anyone,” Grady said. He noted that Pardini continued to work at UPJ after being diagnosed with cancer and enduring painful medical treatments.

“If I could use three words to characterize Dr. Brenda Pardini’s life they would be courageous, determined and thoughtful,” Grady said. “Brenda was an inspiration to all of us, personally and professionally, and we will miss her.”

In addition to her Pitt career, Pardini was a past president of the Pennsylvania College Personnel Association and a member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

She was a member of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Windber, Pa.

Pardini earned her PhD in higher education at Pitt, following a master’s degree in college student personnel administration from Indiana University-Bloomington and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Stetson University.

Prior to coming to Pitt, she was the assistant dean of women at Shippensburg University.

Pardini is survived by her husband, William Pardini III of Johnstown; son Adam Pardini of Pittsburgh; stepmother Nancy Zagorac of Wilkins; father- and mother-in-law William Pardini Jr. and Lucretia Pardini of Cowansville; sister-in-law Susan Conti, and niece Rachel Conti, both of Moon.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Brenda J. Pardini, PhD, Scholarship Fund, which supports students active in, or employed by, the Office of Student Life at UPJ. Contributions should be sent in Pardini’s name to the Johnstown Education Foundation, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, 272 Blackington Hall, Johnstown 15904.

—Peter Hart

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