MANATEE — Former students, colleagues, and community leaders came to praise Dr. Robert Barylski, first dean and chief executive officer of University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, on his retirement Thursday.
Through all the words of praise from a former congressman, several retired state legislators, and other movers and shakers, Barylski’s trademark smile never left his face.
Barylski was named dean of USF Sarasota-Manatee and New College in 1979, before USF had a campus here of its own.
Dan Miller, a former U.S. representative from Bradenton, was an adjunct professor teaching college classes out of high school classrooms when Barylski arrived on the scene.
There were no full-time USF faculty at the local campus then, and today, there are more than 60, Miller said.
“Things are tough in Tallahassee and Washington now, but the toughest politics has to be university politics,” Miller said.
Barylski proved to be a master in dealing with administrators at the main USF campus in Tampa, and delicately helped USF co-exist on the New College of Florida campus in the late 1970s, Miller said. To him, nearly everyone was a comrade, Russian for associate or friend.
Pat Neal, a local developer and former state lawmaker, said Barylski was also effective in working the halls of the legislature to win key support to help obtain property vital for the new campus.
Neal praised Barylski for his vision and leadership, saying they were crucial to the birth of the new campus.
Barylski was also a leader in the Gateway concept, which helped beautify and revitalize the Tamiami Trail along the county line.
He helped rally USF Sarasota-Manatee, the Ringling Museum and New College of Florida to build the Sudakoff Center, the Jane Bancroft Cook Library and the Gateway Bridge over the Tamiami Trail, connecting Sudakoff Center to New College.
The Harvard-educated Barylski devoted 10 years to leading the Manatee- Sarasota campus, and then in 1989 returned to the world of scholarship and research.
His scholastic quest took him to Russia, and to explore Mideast poli- tics, the emergence of China, and more.
Former students said he was a fascinating lecturer, and an encouraging force in the classroom.
“He kept telling me, you can do this, you can do this,” remembered one of his former students, Delbra Howard, who came to embrace Barylski and wish him well.
Howard said Barylski inspired her, and she is now a social science teacher at Johnson Middle School in Bradenton.
Pat Glass, a former Manatee County commissioner, said Barylski is “of the world of inspired thinking.”
To Barylski, the word “student” means “infinite possibilities,” Glass said.
Barylski said his accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of the community and hoped current and future school leaders receive the same kind of backing he received.
“All we can say is that we loved it here, and it was a privilege to do that service,” he said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.