Monday, June 25, 2012

Thank you, Ron Brandolini

By Jeff Kunerth, The Orlando Sentinel
The Mod 3 faculty lounge on the west campus of Valencia Community College seated 10 or 12 uncomfortably. The chairs were metal. The room was narrow and cramped, its walls painted concrete block, the floor covered in commercial-grade carpeting.

"It was utilitarian and stark like a train station in London said Ron Nelson, 69, a retired English professor.

What made the room special was the ongoing, free-floating conversation and intellectual debate among the faculty members who occupied the place in the 1980s. There were English teachers, accounting professors, mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, psychologists, and this one economics professor who seemed to stand out among them all — Ronald Brandolini.

"He was one of the shining stars in that group of people," Nelson said. "The quality of conversation was a lot better because he was there."

Ron Brandolini, of Orlando, died June 16 after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.

Brandolini, who came to Valencia in 1976, was the founding director of the college's honors program in the 1980s and served in that capacity for 20 years. During that time, he recruited top students and teachers for the program, elevating the program's stature throughout the country.

Honors students from Valencia went on to North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke, Ivy League schools and top-tier state universities.

"It was rated one of the highest community college programs in the country," said Ivan Applebaum, 76, a retired psychology professor.

Brandolini's intellect allowed him to converse on any subject with experts in their fields, but his personality made him accessible to teachers and students alike. For his students, Brandolini had the ability to translate the principles of economics into the language of everyday life.

"He would take events from TV and apply it to his lecture and make it interesting. His students would say, 'I never thought of it that way. It makes sense,' " said his wife, Nicoleta Brandolini, 43.

Brandolini liked to view things from afar and get the big picture, whether it was from the peak of Machu Picchu in Peru to the backyard telescope he programmed with a computer.

He liked to fish, but always let his catch off the hook. He knew how to invest, but never cared much about money. He liked to sit at home in a buttery-colored love seat, facing the entertainment center with the television off, and listen to music. Mozart. Springsteen.
Willie Nelson.  Elton John. The Drifters.

To his friends and family, Ron Brandolini had that rare combination of soaring intellect and common sense, far-reaching vision and fine attention to detail, self-confidence without the self-centeredness.

"He did not have much of an ego," Applebaum said. "His interests were in others, not himself."


  1. Mr. Chambless,

    I'm sure you don't remember me, it has been many years, 21 I suppose, since I met you. My father is Ron Brandolini. I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts on my dad, and for sharing a story that I, although biased, believe accurately depicts the man he was. He was kind and as you descbribed, gentle. He was strong in his beliefts and stuck to them, however, he allowed others to have their own ideals without judging. He was one of kind and I thank you so very much for the words you have shared here and for honoring him in such a way. My dad was an incredible man, an educator to his core, an honest and true friend and the most remarkable dad I could have ever wished for. Thank you so much, again, for such a kind tribute.

    1. It is my pleasure. He was gracious and kind even in his illness. He will be missed.

  2. I'm very sorry to hear that Mr. Brandolini has passed away. I have fond memories of him from my time at VCC (as it was known back then).

    He was the one who encouraged me to join Honors Program, which turned out to be the single best decision I made in my early college career.

    Ron was a fantastic and intelligent guy with a genuine interest for the students, the Honors Program, and Valencia. He will certainly be missed.