With a heavy heart I bear witness to the untimely passing of Dr. Irit Gat last Tuesday at the age of 53. Irit was the Dean of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California. She was also my younger sister. She died peacefully of natural causes.
I am going to miss her. A lot. I'm going to miss her smile. I'm going to miss the way she said "Hey bro" when we talked on the phone. I'm going to miss the joy she brought to everyone who knew her, especially my parents.
It wasn't always easy being my little sister. I could be a real dick at times. But mainly as she was growing up she found it difficult to forge her own identity. Irit sometimes said she felt like she was growing up in my shadow. I was two years ahead of her in school and an academic overachiever, which is a nice was of saying I was a geek without a lot of friends. But the teachers all loved me, and so the first thing she usually heard from them was, "Oh, you're Erann's sister!" That was hard on her because on the one hand it was true, and she loved me, and so she embraced it. But on the other hand she was too nice to say, "No, I'm not, I'm me. I'm my own person with my own identity, my own dreams, my own foibles, my own strengths." And yet, she was all those things too.
Irit's main strength was an extraordinary ability to get along with everyone. It's not something I appreciated when I was growing up. It is only much later in life that I came to realize how important the ability to forge interpersonal relationships is. She was a natural from the beginning. She was on the homecoming court. She was the prom queen, and I don't mean that metaphorically. My little sister was literally the prom queen in her senior year. Her peers liked her that much. I was lucky if I could get through the day without someone pinning a "kick me" sign on my back.
She then went on to forge an extraordinary professional career. She earned a Ph.D., did a post-doc at NASA, and was then appointed professor of psychology at Antelope Valley College. I saw her teach once (and only once). She was good. She was poised. She was prepared. She controlled the class. She consistently got excellent reviews on RateMyProfessor, with a 100% "would take her class again" rating.
After about ten years behind the podium she decided she needed a new challenge and went into administration. She become department head, president of the academic senate, and finally, Dean of Behavioral and Social Sciences.
On a few occasions I told her how proud I was of her. I wish I could tell her again. Sis, if you're listening, I'm proud of you, and have been for a long time.
Irit never married, but she did find love. Lots of it. The outpouring of emotion from her students and colleagues has been extraordinary. If these were normal times and we were able to hold a funeral, a whole lot of people would have shown up. That is the measure of a successful life.
Irit was engaged to be married to extraordinary man named Bob, whom I would have been proud to call my brother-in-law. She invariably referred to him as "my Bob." They did a lot of traveling together. Bob is an avid cyclist, and many of their trips were BackRoads cycling trips, so she was an athlete too. (In fact, in college, she was a body-builder.) They had grand plans to retire in a few years and move to Tuscon or some such place. Retiring with "her Bob" was the one dream she never got to realize. Other than that, she lived a full and happy life (except when her older brother beat her up before he grew up and got a clue).
I will miss you, little sis. Rest in peace.