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Longtime UAF dean Gerald Mohatt dies at 69

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Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010 3:54 am | Updated: 12:55 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Gerald Mohatt.

FAIRBANKS — Described by many as a wonderful teacher, model administrator, innovator and visionary who was passionate about his family and his work, Gerald “Jerry” Mohatt, 69, director of the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, passed away peacefully Wednesday morning surrounded by his family at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Mohatt’s friends and colleagues always included in their litany of his many talents and attributes the highest praise: “He was a good man.”

For the past four years, Mohatt had been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia and was undergoing chemotherapy in preparation for a stem cell transplant in April or May.

“He seemed to be doing fine and unexpectedly contracted a massive infection,” said Bert Boyer, who has worked closely with Mohatt for 12 years and is now acting director of CANHR at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Until shortly before he was admitted to the hospital Monday afternoon, Mohatt was taking care of business sending out e-mails.

“He always had projects going and last week was talking about a book he was going to write with a fellow on the Rosebud Reservation (in South Dakota) and a project he was planning with colleagues in France,” said Mohatt’s close friend Ralph Gabrielli, director of the Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development department at UAF.

“He’s recognized nationally for his work with Alaska Natives and other indigenous people and on top of that he is the best man I ever knew, and the best friend I ever had,” Gabrielli said.

A professor of psychology, Mohatt earned his doctorate degree in community clinical psychology and learning environments from Harvard University in 1978, and a master’s degree in psychology from St. Louis University. He was tri-lingual, speaking English, Lakota and French.

Before coming to UAF in 1983, Mohatt was the founding president of one of the first Native colleges, Sinte Gleska Tribal College, now Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Lakota Reservation.

At UAF from 1983-1992, Mohatt was dean of the College of Human and Rural Development and College of Rural Alaska.

His entire career has been devoted to teaching, research and community service in a myriad projects and venues.

“One thing that characterized his whole career was a commitment to social justice and self-determination to American Indians and Alaska Native people,” Boyer said.

“He was a person of great integrity who committed his life to service of others, a person of great wisdom who people often turned to for advice and counsel. He was a great support to many people.”

Diana Campbell, who works at CANHR as a communications specialist, said one of the reasons she took the job was because Mohatt’s interest and focus always was “What is right about Alaska Natives, not what is wrong.”

“What always amazed me is how much he knew about everything in the center and how he was able to keep on top of things. When we hit a wall, we’d say, ‘What does Jerry say?’ And he always would have the best answer,” Campbell said.

CANHR studies the genetics of obesity; nutrition; drug, alcohol and suicide prevention; contaminants and nutrients in Alaska’s subsistence food; and understanding Yup’ik ways of stress and coping among other things.

Sam Demientieff got to know Mohatt earlier this decade while serving on a statewide research project council called, “People Awakening: Stories of Hope and Courage in Sobriety and Substance Abuse.”

“Jerry was not overbearing. He was easy to work with and easy to talk to, and he listened,” Demientieff said. “He was real sensitive to people in all the areas.

“He engaged you; he was interested, and it didn’t matter who you were, young or old, or black or white.”

After the project Mohatt steered Demientieff into serving as a cultural adviser to students studying for doctorate degrees in community psychology, a program Mohatt initiated in the statewide system.

“(Mohatt) very much believed in involving the community in designing and conducting of research,” said Jim Allen, a psychology professor and co-director of Culture and Intervention at CANHR. He had great vision to establish our center as a leading institute for indigenous people’s health.”

Allen also was impressed with the delight Mohatt took in his and others’ children and his commitment to youth and being a grandpa.

“He had a special place in his heart for his granddaughter Esme,” Allen said.

Among Mohatt’s many contributions to the Alaska university system in addition to teaching graduate and undergraduate courses was developing the College of Rural Alaska, turning it from paper and pencil and surface mail to an electronic program.

He was a pioneer in distance education and largely responsible in its effectiveness,” Gabrielli said. “He leaves an indelible mark on the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska statewide system, and likewise leaves an indelible mark on so many people he has helped — young faculty and graduate students.”

Mohatt is survived by his wife, Robby; sons, Nate (Jamie) and Justin (Jim); and granddaughter, Esme.

The Mohatt family plans a memorial service for at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Charles Davis Concert Hall in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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