By Emily J. Minor
BOCA RATON — John R. Pisapia, a lifelong student of education who loved traveling and learning from leaders in other parts of the world, died May 2 after becoming ill last summer. He was 79.
Although unable to speak in the last months of his life, Dr. Pisapia — on staff as a professor and department head at Florida Atlantic University for the last 20 years — continued working with his doctoral students through emails and texts, said his stepdaughter, Pamela Baynes.
“He was a teacher until the end,” she said.
Born in New Jersey in 1937, the first of six children to his parents, Carmine and Josephine Pisapia, Dr. Pisapia attended Glenville State College in West Virginia on a football scholarship. Later, when he was invited to the Washington Redskins training camp, he was relieved when he was cut, Baynes said.
The end of football meant he could pursue his real passions: education, leadership and helping students rise to the top.
Dr. Pisapia earned his master’s degree and a Ph.D. from West Virginia University, and then worked as a teacher, coach, high school principal and eventually as West Virginia superintendent of schools. He later became a tenured professor at WVU, and then moved on to Virginia Commonwealth University.
In Virginia, he founded the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium, which focused on research and solutions to America’s obstacles to good learning and good teaching.
“He was very proud of MERC,” Baynes said.
In 1984, he married Pamela Baynes’ mother, Barbara Romano Pisapia, a special education teacher with whom Dr. Pisapia worked for many years. Although Dr. Pisapia was her stepfather, Baynes said she always considered him a father. After he became ill last summer, she eventually quit her job so she could care for him, she said.
John and Barbara Pisapia moved to Boca Raton in 1998, coming to Florida so Dr. Pisapia could help set up FAU’s Department of Educational Leadership.
Besides his grandchildren, his students were his great love, Baynes said. And he used his travel to ground his work on a global level.
“Whenever he entered the room, he always made sure to do his best to make somebody feel at ease and feel welcome,” said FAU professor Daniel Reyes-Guerra. “He wanted them to know there was an important reason for them to be there.”
Dr. Pisapia was mesmerized by leaders of other cultures. Before he became ill, he had just visited and studied in South Korea, Japan and Australia. Each year, he took such a summer trip.
“His whole goal was to learn from those cultures and really immerse himself,” Baynes said. “He would have Chinese students come over and he’d learn from them.”
Mrs. Pisapia died in 2009, after her retirement from special education enabled her to travel with her husband.
“He was a remarkable man and a spectacular person,” said his sister, Jo Ann Walsh Harpster, who lives on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Dr. Pisapia is also survived by a son and stepson; three grandchildren; another sister, and three brothers.
A memorial service was held May 11, with memory sharing from many of his FAU colleagues.
The family asks that any donations be sent to: FAU Foundation (EDU300), FAU Educational Leadership and Research Methodology, ED47, Suite 260, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL 33431.
By Emily J. Minor