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John Sarvey, a UCLA alumnus and former undergraduate student government president, died on Nov. 25. He was 45.
The cause of death is not known.
Both friends and colleagues described Sarvey as a humble, calm and dedicated leader. He served as the Undergraduate Students Association Council community service commissioner in 1988-1989 and president in 1989-1990.
Sarvey became USAC president during a turbulent time of transition, said Neera Tanden, who was external vice president in 1991. As an Asian American student, Sarvey was a leader among students of color when the student body at UCLA was becoming more diverse, she added.
As president, Sarvey organized an initiative to provide student protests on various issues, Tanden said.
“He was so engaged, thoughtful and kind, and he brought out those qualities in others,” said David Hoffman, who was the USAC president when Sarvey was the assistant community service commissioner.
A year after his term ended, Sarvey convinced Tanden to run for the external vice president position in USAC, she said.
“He said to me, “˜If you know you have a contribution to make, you should run. You should take the chance,’” she said.
But Sarvey’s primary interest was in community service projects, and he continued giving back to the community after he graduated from UCLA, said Mike Cohn, the director at the UCLA Center for Student Programming.
After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in organizational studies, Sarvey went to work for City Year, a national service organization that aims to involve young adults in community service projects, leadership development and civic engagement. In his 12 years with the organization, he served as an executive director in both San Jose/Silicon Valley and in Boston before becoming the national vice president, according a City Year obituary.
A few years after graduating from UCLA, Hoffman was visiting Boston for a conference about nonprofit organizations,
Hoffman and his colleague Rachel D’Oronzio, happened to run into Sarvey at the conference, Hoffman said.
In the week following the encounter, Sarvey would email Hoffman to ask about D’Oronzio and D’Oronzio would ask Hoffman about “that cute guy” they had met at the conference, Hoffman said.
“Eventually I told Rachel about John’s emails, which turned out to be an excellent idea all around. She jumped eagerly into the conversation, I jumped out,” Hoffman said.
Sarvey and D’Oronzio got married soon after.
“One thing led to another, and a family was born,” Hoffman said.
In 2006, Sarvey started working at Northeastern University in Massachusetts as a development officer in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, and was the executive director for their School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs from 2008 until he died. As executive director, he managed fundraising, marketing and program development for the policy school.
Sarvey also continued to be involved in community service, advising three student groups at Northeastern: Circle K, the Red Cross Club and the campus Unitarian group.
Professor Joan Fitzgerald, the interim dean at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern, said she worked with Sarvey from July until he died last month.
After hearing about his death, students came into the Policy School’s office looking for Sarvey to pay their respects to his colleagues. It was not until then that Fitzgerald realized how engaged he was with the students, she said.
“Students really looked up to him and admired him,” she said. “Clearly one of the things that was important to him was mentoring the next generation.”
Just a week before Sarvey died, Hoffman and several other former USAC presidents gathered at UCLA to meet with members of the current council.
It had been about 25 years since Hoffman last saw Sarvey, but Sarvey’s personality had not changed much since then, Hoffman said.
“The person I saw a few weeks ago was the same person I went to school with. Maybe more confident, with more experience, but (Sarvey) had the same humility that he did as an undergraduate,” Hoffman said.
During the meeting, Sarvey talked about how he struggled for the right words to say in front of students at protests when he was president. He shared the challenges he went through while he was in leadership, Hoffman said.
Anees Hasnain, the current USAC community service commissioner who attended the meeting, said she was touched by his altruism and lifelong dedication to serving his community.
“It was really inspiring that he was able to continue making a difference throughout his life after he graduated,” Hasnain said. “His message was to give back through indirect service, direct service and education.”
Sarvey is survived by his wife, Rachel D’Oronzio, his two children, Elijah and MeeJee, his father, George, and his stepmother Linda.
Friends and family members will hold a memorial service for Sarvey today at the First Unitarian Society of Newton in West Newton, Mass.
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Correction: John Sarvey died on Nov. 25. The cause of death is not known.