In 1971, when Paul Daniel Gallagher was only 25 —the ink on his doctoral degree barely dry — he became assistant to the founding College of Education dean at Florida International University.
By the time he retired in 2007 as Senior Vice President, Emeritus, Gallagher had held seven vice presidencies — a national record, according to FIU President Emeritus Modesto A. Maidique, who worked with Gallagher for 26 years, and called him one of the school’s “true founders.’’
Gallagher “clearly was one of the most influential figures in the history of the university,’’ FIU President Mark Rosenberg said on Wednesday, still reeling from the death of his longtime friend the previous day.
Gallagher, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s son — the fourth of eight children — born on Aug. 29, 1944, died at his home in St. Augustine. He was 68.
His wife, retired FIU professor Jo Gallagher, said he succumbed to a rare, fast-moving kidney cancer, diagnosed in early July.
She said he’d grown up poor in the town of West Hazleton, Pa., where kids played in the waste from open-pit mines, but his parents prized education.
Her husband went to a local branch of Pennsylvania State University, then the main campus in State College, and earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University. In addition to the College of Education post, Gallagher was FIU’s associate vice president for academic affairs, vice president for the North Campus, vice president for student affairs, provost, vice president for advancement, senior vice president for business and finance, and senior vice president and chief of staff in the Office of the President.
“I’m in denial,’’ Maidique acknowledged on Wednesday. “Three weeks ago he complained of back pain, but he was perfectly fine.’’
In retirement, Gallagher worked with Maidique to develop the Center for Leadership, where he served as faculty director of the Miami-Dade County Schools’ Principals Leadership Development Program.
Gallagher led FIU’s successful $275 million fundraising campaign and was a force behind the FIU Foundation, Inc. As the public university’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, he fought for the College of Law and the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and against state budget cuts.
But his greatest pride was in creating the Golden Panthers football team.
“Paul was convinced that a football team would really help the university and there were many roadblocks,’’ recalled Patricia Telles-Irvin, former vice president of student affairs, now vice president of student affairs at Northwestern University. “He was steadfast, and worked with people to make it happen. He had me find funding for a band, and selected a coach ... He never missed a game,’’ home or away.
Gallagher told the Miami Herald that the school needed a team to enhance campus life, increase student and alumni loyalty, draw attention to FIU’s other sports, and raise FIU’s media profile.
When the Florida Board of Regents approved the football program in 2000, Gallagher, then senior vice president for business and finance, overseeing the athletic department, was thrilled.
“We feel great, terrific,’’ he said. “It took us longer than we planned to get to this point, but it leaves us in a far stronger position than we would have been. Right now I’m at the University of Florida, standing in Florida Field looking out on 84,000 seats and hoping someday we’ll have this at FIU.’’