WOONSOCKET -- George Nasuti, a longtime educator and high-school athletic director in the city, died Tuesday night at Rhode Island Hospital after a sporting accident on a basketball court four days earlier. He was 52.
Nasuti was remembered by friends and colleagues in Rhode Island interscholastic athletics as "a standup guy," "a very good man" and someone who always had the kids' best interests at heart.
â€śIt is with great sadness that we share with you that George passed away,â€ť family members said in a statement released through a longtime friend, Assistant Athletics Director at Central Connecticut State University and former star Villa Novan Tom Pincince.
â€śHe was surrounded by people that loved him,â€ť they said. â€śHe passed peacefully and we take great comfort in knowing that in his final days, he was doing what he loved most, and thatâ€™s being around young people and working in sports.â€ť
Educator, athlete, longtime school administrator, Nasuti was a fixture of the Woonsocket Education Department for years and counted scores of current and former students among his friends. Some 1,300 joined a "Prayers for George Nasuti" page that popped up on Facebook since he lapsed into what would prove to be a fatal coma after he fell while refereeing a basketball game in Burrillville Friday.
The heartfelt messages of condolence continued pouring in after news of Nasuti's untimely death surfaced.
"My heart breaks for Woonsocket's great loss of George Nasuti," wrote Jennifer Beausoleil Abramek. "He always gave 150 percent when it involved our kids and our schools he was a true one of a kind gem and it showed in his sparkly blue eyes. May we all honor him and live by his slogan in our day to day lives."
A former student may have summed it up best, saying that only in hindsight was he able to fully appreciate Nasuti's contributions.
"I was too immature to realize at the time you cared about all of us," said Jay Picard. "You tried to teach us how to act right. Thank you. You were a great man. Prayers for your family."
Nasuti had served as a principal of several elementary schools in the district as well as Woonsocket High School. He was currently the director of health, athletics and wellness and administrator of the new teacher evaluation program that was under development after the district received federal Race to the Top funds.
Workers in the McFee Administration Building were stunned and saddened by news of his death. Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan distributed a somber e-mail to members of the school community confirming the tragic news.
"Dear friends," she said. "Today we received sad news that our beloved George Nasuti has passed. Please take a moment to honor him with your students and each other. Share with others his love of this great city, respectful nature, and honorable character.
"We are all better people for having George in our life."
MAYOR LISA BALDELLI-HUNT lauded Nasuti as someone who elevated his position as an educator into a sort of ambassador for the city, a man who was equal parts public servant, role model, civic leader and mentor to the young.
He was also a devoted husband to his wife, Carol, and father to their two sons, Christopher and Sean.
"He was everything bundled up into one person that you'd hope your own child would become," said Baldelli-Hunt.
The mayor said she's known Nasuti since they went to Pothier Elementary School together. The man who grew up to be known as a consummate gentleman started out in life with the same reverence for fair-dealing and respect for others, she said.
As a young boy in the playground or classroom, "He was always very respectful to everyone around him,â€ť he said. "He was a friend."
"George was that person who made sure everyone was treated fairly," she said. "He was a young gentleman then, and he was a gentleman when he grew up."
A 1993 graduate of Woonsocket High School, where he played baseball and football under Nasutiâ€™s tutelage, Pincince called his former coach â€śa spectacular man.â€ť
â€śHe went about his business making sure we did what we were supposed to do,â€ť he said. â€śWe learned accountability from him and how to do things the right way.â€ť
His finest hour may have been when high school sports were on the chopping block during the summer of 2009. Ultimately, they were spared thanks to Nasutiâ€™s ability to mobilize support in the city.
â€śThe amazing thing about George is that he was so immersed in the community. He would have done anything to make sure that sports werenâ€™t eliminated,â€ť said George Coderre, who was the head girlsâ€™ basketball coach at Woonsocket High during that tumultuous time. â€śHe took on the responsibility while he was principal at Bernon Elementary School. It was extremely time consuming, but thereâ€™s probably no one else who could have done all that responsibility. He went over and above.â€ť
In May 2012 at Ciroâ€™s Tavern on Cherry, Nasuti orchestrated what he hailed as the first-ever all-encompassing fundraising effort geared to specifically benefit all Woonsocket public school sports from varsity and junior varsity down to the middle school level. Nasutiâ€™s second crack at raising funds for the athletic department he oversaw was held this past September, a 5K road race appropriately dubbed â€śNovans Pride.â€ť
A onetime Woonsocket High athletic director who also coached on the same Villa Novan football staff as Nasuti during the late 80s, Mike Watters expressed, â€śEverything comes in cycles. Coaches and players may leave after a couple of years, but George was always the one constant. Heâ€™s touched so many lives because heâ€™s worn so many hats for that school department. Everyone who has gone through the system since he started at the high school in 1983 has benefited from George being there.
â€śWhat made George so special is that he had a keen sense of history of the high school and Woonsocket in general. When you talk about Woonsocket High School, George always seems to be in the picture,â€ť Watters added. â€śIf you wanted to know what was going on with Woonsocket athletics, just call George.â€ť
FELLOW ATHLETIC directors shared similar sentiments of loss and expressed sympathies for Nasuti's family.
"First of all, his family has suffered a terrible loss," said Cumberland High School Athletic Director Frank Geiselman. "He was a super family man.
"Beyond that, the Woonsocket school community - it's just tough to replace people like George, people who go out of their way just to do whatever they can and put the time in," said Geiselman when contacted on Wednesday.
"He didn't do it for any awards, Geiselman said." He did it because he loved it."
Geiselman got to know Nasuti even better in conjunction with the annual Woonsocket-Cumberland Thanksgiving Day football game.
"You couldn't have asked for anyone better to work with. Just a super guy who was easy to deal with and get along with," said Geiselman. "We talked often before the game and how we wanted to do things. He was always enthusiastic and just loved sports and athletics. It was always for the kids."
Added John Scanlon, Director of Athletics at Pawtucket's Tolman High, "He was always a standup guy and always had the kids' best interests at heart."
In addition to his Woonsocket-based duties, Nasuti also served on several Interscholastic League-related committees. He was involved with the baseball and football committees and part of the groups that helped streamline the divisional realignment process and procedures having to do with cooperative sports.
RIIL Executive Director Tom Mezzanotte passed along his departmentâ€™s well wishes in a statement: "No words can adequately express the sorrow we all feel, but we can take solace in the friendship we shared with George and acknowledge the good and lasting work that he did in his too-brief lifetime. For all it was an honor and privilege to have known and worked with George.
â€śAs a coach, educator, and administrator George had many proud moments. He loved his family and, of course, his students,â€ť Mezzanotte went on to say.
â€śFor all, it was an honor and privilege to have known and worked with George. As a coach, educator and administrator, he had many proud moments.â€ť
Geiselman echoed Mezzanotteâ€™s sentiments. â€śHe was into improving athletics not only in Woonsocket, but across the state.â€ť
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03, Russ Olivo @russolivo