Paul Nicoletti treated his students like family.
“He really took us under his wing,” said his former student, Lisa Conti.
Family, friends and past students gathered Saturday afternoon at the Williams Thomas Funeral Home to honor Nicoletti’s life. The former UF professor for the College of Veterinary Medicine died Jan. 31 at 83 years old due to injuries from a fall.
Nicoletti came to UF in 1978 and taught infectious diseases, epidemiology and public health and food safety before he retired in 2003.
After growing up on a dairy farm in Missouri, Nicoletti’s life changed after receiving a $150 scholarship that allowed him to attend college, said James Lloyd, the dean of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
He said Nicoletti wanted to give students the same opportunity he had. Nicoletti created numerous scholarships at UF, including the Paul Nicoletti Florida Opportunity Scholarship in Veterinary Medicine, which supports first-generation students, Lloyd said.
“I often referred to him as our poster child for scholarship-giving,” Lloyd said.
He said his fondest memory of Nicoletti was driving across Florida for business trips. It was during those highway conversations that Nicoletti became Lloyd’s mentor.
“Everywhere we went, it was always clear who was the star around, and it wasn’t the new dean,” he said. “I rode on his coat-tails.”
In 2010, Nicoletti received the Karl F. Meyer-James H. Steele Gold Headed Cane Award, the highest honor given by the American Veterinary Epidemiology Society.
For Conti, her life changed after she took Nicoletti’s public health and food safety class in the late 1980s.
“He just lit a fire that I didn’t know was there,” she said.
Before his class, Conti wanted to become a clinician. Instead, Nicoletti opened her eyes to a career in public health.
Now Conti is the deputy commissioner at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Tallahassee. Whenever Nicoletti travelled through Tallahassee, he would stay at her house, she said.
He was always welcomed as a member of her family.
She said Nicoletti would take any opportunity to tell her about his own family.
“Any chance he could get, he bragged about his daughters and his grandchildren,” she said.
Carl Romey, a pastor at the First Church of the Nazarene who lead Nicoletti’s service, said Nicoletti shared his love for travel.
Nicoletti found an unlikely friendship with Romey.
“The biggest shock that he had was that an evangelical Christian could also be a democrat,” he said, speaking of how both were democrats.
He said he could talk — and argue — about anything with Nicoletti.
“And that was where we had so much fun,” he said.
He said it was time for the next generation, Nicoletti’s children and grandchildren, to pick up the baton Nicoletti passed to them.
“Paul would say to each one of us, ‘Don’t stop being who God wanted you to be. Don’t stop giving,’” Romey said.
Nicoletti is survived by his children, Nancy Leader and Julie Nicoletti; his grandchildren, Joel Parker, Beth Leader, Julia Leader and Daniel Leader; and his sister, Ruth Ann Eads.