Revered Sacramento State communication studies professor Nick Trujillo, 56, died in his sleep Oct. 29.
Trujillo, a professor at Sac State since 1990, was seen as an excellent instructor and person.
Communication studies professor and department Chair Steven Buss said the death of Trujillo was a shock to him and many of his colleagues.
“He seemed so healthy,” Buss said. “We had no idea he had any medical condition or any history of medical conditions. He seemed very athletic and fit - nothing seemed to match up.”
Buss, who was a fairly close colleague to Trujillo, said his loss is strongly felt in the department.
“Students love him,” Buss said. “He was conscientious, full of energy, hard working, smart (and) very creative. He was an excellent instructor and excellent human being. It’s been a major loss for all of our students and of ourselves.”
Buss also said many of Trujillo’s students have stopped by to speak to him in disbelief at their professor’s passing.
“It’s one of those things where it’s such a shock that they want to talk to somebody that will tell them whether it’s true or not, or a rumor,” Buss said. “The only thing we know is that the death was unexpected and sudden and, as far as we know, he died peacefully.”
Retired Sac State communication studies professor Michael Fitzgerald said Trujillo always made sure to teach his class to the best of his ability and was always open to his students’ opinions.
“He was exemplary because he stayed on top of his things, kept his classes fresh - (with) new material all the time - and listened to his students,” Fitzgerald said. “He liked students. He thought their ideas were always welcome.”
A multi-faceted person, Trujillo was not just a teacher who loved to teach, but he devoted time to raise cancer awareness after the death of his wife, former communication studies professor Leah Vande Berg, from ovarian cancer in 2004.
Trujillo’s former student, Minh Kevin Tran, said he spoke about his wife’s strength and how it encouraged him to embrace life after her passing.
“He would often tell us his story about how his wife, Leah, struggled with cancer and how strong she was about facing death until the very end,” Tran said. “If she can be strong about that, then there’s nothing he should be afraid of facing.”
Tran said he found Trujillo’s story about his wife to be influential and his words of encouragement will always help him get through difficult times in his life.
“Seeing his wife like that gave (Trujillo) the will to live life to the fullest,” Tran said. “I’ll always remember what he said when I face my fear and challenges. It helped me through a lot ever since I met him.”
Not to be constricted to just teaching, Trujillo ventured into writing and published a book about the death of his wife, “Cancer and Death: A Love Story.” Trujillo also created an alter-ego musician named “Gory Bateson.”
Fitzgerald said Trujillo’s Gory Bateson was an example of just how talented he was.
“All of his songs were great,” Fitzgerald said. “His creation of Gory as a kind of media/viral media experiment was characteristic of his innovation. Unfortunately many of our colleagues thought he was a showboat and didn’t understand how creative he was. Being too creative in a university can hurt faculty - even though it shouldn’t.”
Tran said Trujillo often spoke of his wife and she was the direct influence of Gory Bateson.
“He said, ‘Just seeing (my wife) made me realize that you can’t be afraid to live life,’” Tran said. “’Don’t be afraid of living your dream. Get out there and do it no matter what people will say.’”
Fitzgerald, who knew Trujillo since the 1990s, said he remembers Trujillo as someone that could respect his colleagues, but also knew when to question authority.
“I once watched professor Trujillo in a heated debate with faculty members in a meeting,” Fitzgerald said. “The next day, he played golf with the same bunch and had a great time. He could separate out the professional and personal in a way that was refreshing.”
Fitzgerald said he will always remember Trujillo to be a “what you see is what you get” type of person who spoke his mind and - most of all - someone who always spoke the truth.
“You never really had to wonder what he was thinking about a situation - he would offer it up,” Fitzgerald said. “Sometimes some colleagues and administrators wanted him to be more diplomatic. I found him refreshing. Sometimes annoying, sure, but always honest.”
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