EL PASO, Texas -- It was news that no one who knew him expected to hear when they woke up Friday morning.
University of Texas El Paso and El Paso Community College professor Dominic 'Nic' Lannutti had died, not long after testing positive for Covid-19.
ABC-7 has learned that Lannutti had a significant underlying health condition at the time of his death, as he was also undergoing treatment for Leukemia; an official cause of death has yet to be determined.
Lannutti is being fondly remembered by his students, who tell ABC-7 they owe much of their success to his efforts and guidance.
"He was there recruiting for his program and if he hadnn’t encouraged me and students like me to go into it, there’s just no way," said Mary Miller, a research assistant at UTEP.
Lannutti got his start in academics later in life, something that resonated with Miller and others as they look back on his life. His passion for teaching helped him direct a one of a kind program bridging both EPCC and UTEP.
He was the program coordinator for the UTEP - EPCC 'Bridges to the Baccalaureate' program. By doing so, he helped many students from a minority or challenged background get opportunities at UTEP they may not have known they could get.
"There would be a line out of his office of people going to him to confide in him, whether it was about being in his class and not understanding the material, or if you’re like me and you’re like 'how do I get to the next step' and I don’t know who else I would lean on," Miller said.
His colleagues, hit by his loss as well, said he will be remembered as a good educator who cared about his students. Many of them reflected on the passion he showed while teaching.
"There are people who do their jobs and do it well, then there are people that do their jobs and you can feel the passion for what they’re doing and 'Nic' really cared about his students. It was really obvious they always had good things to say about him," said fellow professor Bruce Cushing.
Ultimately his students and colleagues said they will remember Lannutti for being a family man who loved and cared for his children.
"I know that he would want for his family to know how much they meant for him," Miller said. "He would talk about them all the time. His kids were his everything and he would always tell us 'keep family first' because he knows he had a family. He raised a family going through all of it and he knows they are the staple to getting the things you want in life." .