Every morning, University of Miami Dining Services worker Eugene Zazofsky arrived early for his 9:30 a.m. shift to sit on a rocker outside of Stanford Residential College. He greeted students who passed him, updating them on the latest Boston Red Sox game and giving his opinions on newly released movies. Following his shift, he always went to the Rathskeller to have a Coca-Cola.
Zazofsky, fondly known around campus as Gene, died on Sunday at the age of 73, leaving students and coworkers devastated. Gene had worked with Chartwells since 1994 when the company first came to campus, but he had been on campus long before then. George Zazofsky, his father, taught violin at UM for 10 years until 1978 after retiring from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“Gene was part of the UM family for many years, always getting to know the new students and engaging them in one of his favorite topics, the Boston Red Sox,” said Patricia Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, in a statement.
Zazofsky was a favorite among students on campus, particularly the freshmen. To students, Gene was more than a familiar face on campus; he was a friend.
“Every time I came in, he would say hello to me and tell me a fun fact,” freshman Cailé Criscione said. “He was always bouncing from table to table, asking how people’s days were.”
However, it was not only the freshmen who benefitted from his presence on campus; Zazofsky gave students something to look forward to on their way to class. Senior Samantha Padreddii said her encounter with Gene was a daily occurrence.
“Every single day this semester when I walked to class, I’d still stop to talk to him,” Samantha Padreddii said.
Zazofsky’s colleagues, some of whom he worked with for over a decade, were deeply saddened and said they already felt his absence on campus.
“He felt very connected to the kids,” said Natalie San Martin, who worked at the Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall with Gene for seven years. “He’s the spirit of the students at UM. He went to every single activity. There’s a void here.”
Along with being consistently cheerful and friendly, Gene was hardworking and genuinely enjoyed coming to work each day, according to his coworkers.
“He’s been here 22 years and never missed a day. His check was the only one that said the same thing every two weeks,” said Vanessa Williams, who worked with him for 14 years.
Coworkers admired not only his work ethic and consistency but also his commitment to establishing meaningful relationships with the students on campus.
“Friday and Saturday, he didn’t work, but he’d be here with the kids,” coworker Lilian Hernandez said.
Zazofsky had recently celebrated his birthday at the dining hall, a yearly tradition for him. Chef Carlos Clavijo prepared his favorite meal: carved roast beef and onion rings.
“Every … March he’d let everyone know it was his birthday,” Williams said. “I always got him a cupcake.”
Countless students took to social media to express their grief over the loss of Gene, prompting UM Dining Services to hold a memorial for Gene sooner than expected.
“He knew everybody,” San Martin said. “The kids were his life.”
The UM Dining team will hold a memorial in remembrance of Zazofsky on Thursday from 4:30-9:30 p.m. in the Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall.