College mourns the passing of Dr. Gama Perruci

Gama Perruci teaching

For someone who rarely raised his voice, Dr. Gamaliel “Gama” Perruci knew how to make an impression on anyone he met.

Whether it was engaging his students through an animated discussion in Foundations of Leadership or challenging his peers during a faculty meeting, Perruci made sure everyone understood where he was coming from while also listening to their opinion.

Perruci, who joined the College in 1999 and served as the Dean of the McDonough Leadership Center since 2003, passed away on Friday (July 9, 2021) after a courageous battle with cancer.

“Our prayers are with Gama’s wife, Kathleen, their three children, the entire Perruci family, friends and members of the Marietta College community,” said Marietta College President Bill Ruud. “For the past 22 years, Gama has been a vital member of the Marietta College family, and he had a positive impact on a generation of students. We are all saddened to lose such a caring and devoted member of our community.”

Perruci was the first professor Jessie (Johnson) Langdon ’14 met during a visit to campus with her parents.

After receiving a tour of the (McDonough Center), I was amazed by what I had learned and knew I wanted to join,” she said. “Dr. Perruci spoke with such passion of what young people could do to make a difference in our world and it was very inspiring. One thing my parents have always noted about that initial meeting with Dr. Perruci was not only how welcoming he was but how he ensured Marietta would take good care of their kid.”

Perruci has welcomed more than 1,000 students into the McDonough Leadership Program and he made sure each one of them was challenged, but also cared for.

Gene Neill ’16, a member of the Marietta College Alumni Association Board, was one of Perruci’s students. The first words that come to mind when he thinks about his former professor are thoughtful, passionate and wise.

“He always knew how to motivate you to think critically and read between the lines to dig deeper either into an issue or into yourself,” Neill said. “He prioritized his relationships above all else. Often, I would pop into his office for a simple question and what I thought would take two minutes would turn into a 30-minute conversation about multiple topics as we caught up.

Neill continued, “Gama left his mark on hundreds if not thousands of students over his time at Marietta College. I cannot speak for each of those individuals, but I can speak for myself when I say that in his way, Gama helped shape my life and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”

During his senior year, Neill’s anxiety level was on the rise as he prepared for a two-day interview for his first full-time position following graduation. It was Perruci who knew just what to say.

He said something to the effect of, ‘remember that you’re brighter than you think, and you know more than how to do a task, you know how to learn.’ I got the job,” Neill said. “Still today when I feel overwhelmed or when I feel a little dose of imposture syndrome when starting something new, I remember Gama’s words and take a deep breath.”

Langdon said her favorite memory of Perruci came during EXCEL — the McDonough Leadership Program’s orientation in August.

“It’s when Dr. Perruci is at the McDonough welcome/end of EXCEL cook-out at the beginning of the year and him in his chef hat and grill apron. I wish I had pictures, but he was always a trooper managing the grill,” she said. “I have nothing but wonderful memories of Dr. Perruci, from my first campus tour to post-grad life of him just reaching out to see how things have been going. To me, he was  someone who was always invested in the success of his students, not only in the classroom but in their own personal life.”

Perruci also had a profound impact on his colleagues.

“Gama played a variety of roles in many people’s lives,” said Dr. Robert McManus, McCoy Professor of Leadership. “In just my life, he played the role of my Dean, of course, but he was also my co-author and dear friend. His passing is a profound loss — not just for me personally, but for the entire Marietta College community.”

McManus was able to speak with Perruci before his passing. 

“Gama’s last words to me were, ‘Rob, we must find a way to protect McDonough’s legacy.’ I told him, ‘Gama, your legacy is alive and well. It’s living in all the graduates of the McDonough program that you have taught and mentored over the years. That legacy isn't going anywhere. It will only continue to grow,’ ” McManus said. “His life is a testament to the McDonough Leadership Program’s mission to ‘give back the gift.’ His is a living legacy, not bound by brick and mortar, but by flesh and blood of the alumni who continue to serve their communities far and wide. That is the kind of legacy that we should all be so hopeful to leave behind.”

Dr. Tanya Judd Pucella started her Marietta College career in the Leadership Program and is now the Chair of the Education Department.

Gama taught me and so many others how to be a leader in so many more ways than through books and scholarship. He did so by ‘modeling the way’ with patience, kindness and grace, so much so that I have always seen Gama as more than a boss and a mentor but as a dear friend,” she said. “I will miss him profoundly, but I also know that I will always see him in the work that so many of our alumni have and will continue to do as the McDonough program and his legacy are continued after he is gone. I know that he will continue to live in my heart, and I hope the work I continue to do as a teacher and leader makes him proud.”

Judd Pucella admired Perruci’s ability to speak to a group and didn’t relish having to follow him when speaking to a crowd.

He was affable and charming, yet scholarly and profound. He would have his audience, whether it be a classroom of students or an auditorium of parents, hanging on his every word,” she said. “Each time I had the misfortune of following him I could almost feel the palpable disappointment of the crowd, because they could feel how special it was to be in his presence. In my line of work, I have seen people teach students from pre-K through college students, using every teaching method one could name. With all that experience, I am not sure I have seen someone so capable of quickly building rapport with students and using that rapport to transform their understanding of even the most complex topics than when he was leading a discussion. Watching Gama teach was truly a thing of beauty.”

Provost Dr. Janet Bland has enjoyed countless interactions with Perruci since she arrived in 2005.

“What strikes me about Gama is how so many of our conversations were held at the intersection of action and introspection. He wanted to accomplish things, to get things done, and perhaps most importantly to offer meaningful opportunities for students to actually practice the concepts of leadership as they had been taught,” she said. “He believed in action items. But he was also a scholar, who loved ideas and was always ready to discuss approaches, theories and concepts. He believed in possibilities. This approach to his job and his intellectual life really meant that he was always making sure that theory and practice would meet, to the benefit of our college and so many members of The Long Blue Line. The loss of Gama Perruci is profound, and we will miss him terribly.” 

Perruci was recognized as a McCoy Professor in 2001. He also authored and co-authored multiple articles and books on leadership and leadership education including Global Leadership: A Transnational Perspective. Dr. Perruci also co-authored Understanding Leadership: An Arts and Humanities Approach with his colleague Robert McManus which is now in its second edition. Gama also published Teaching Leadership: Bridging Theory and Practice with Sadhana Hall, Deputy Director of the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences at Dartmouth College.

A native of Brazil, Perruci was born January 2, 1962. He served as the Interim Provost for two years (2011-13) while maintaining an active role in the McDonough Program.

Aside from his teaching, research and administrative duties, Perruci also served as a consultant for The New York Times, focusing on the newspaper’s educational programming for leadership students. His other consulting assignments included a review of the Department of Leadership, Ethics and Law (LEL) at the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, Maryland) and an evaluation of the leadership program at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Perruci was the Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the International Leadership Association, Inc. (ILA), a global nonprofit organization focused on the study and practice of leadership. He was also a frequent guest analyst for the London-based BBC World Service and Paris-based Radio France International broadcast to Brazil.

Langdon said Marietta College will always be considered her home away from home mainly because of professors like Perruci.

“He was someone who was always looking out for you and pushing you to be a better person,” she said. “The Marietta College community should be forever grateful to have had someone like Dr. Perruci guiding so many of its students and creating better leaders. I am sad to hear of this loss, but he is someone whose impact and legacy will continue on for many generations.”

Perruci is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and their children, Caroline Perruci, Rebecca Perruci Payne (Christopher) and Alexander Perruci (fiancé Sarah Brunner), and his mother-in-law, Patricia Siler. At this time, funeral services are incomplete and when and where the College will conduct a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the Perruci family requests donations be made in memory of Gama to Marietta College. Those interested in donating can mail it to 215 Fifth St., Marietta, OH 45750 or make a gift online at www.marietta.edu/give with “For Gama” listed in the memo line of the check or as the designation online.