"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."