As an associate instructor of management, Gary Nichols ’87 taught thousands of business students during his 15 years at UCF. Nichols, who passed away Aug. 31 at age 56, regularly taught the Strategic Management capstone course, which is typically a business student’s final class before graduating. To students and colleagues alike, he was known for his great storytelling ability, his passion for teaching and his love of bad jokes.
“Gary was a dedicated teacher who loved his students, teaching a boatload of them online over the past 18 months,” says Paul Jarley, dean of UCF College of Business. “I never saw Gary without a smile on his face, even when he had reason to frown. He was a regular in the dean’s office before the pandemic, and the place won’t seem the same without him.”
A former store manager and corporate trainer for Publix, Nichols served as Mayor of Lake Placid, Florida, from 2002-04. He earned a bachelor’s in marketing from UCF and held a Florida real estate broker’s license and an instructor’s license. His areas of teaching included conflict resolution and negotiation, customer service, team building, and leadership.
“Gary was a talented and versatile instructor, beloved by his students and colleagues,” says Ron Piccolo, chair of the Department of Management. “He had a gift for engaging students, drawing them into discussion and bringing life to course content through his stories and personal experiences.”
Nichols shared a love of bad jokes with Distinguished Alumni Endowed Professor in Business Ethics Rob Folger, who he often was in competition with to see who could outdo one another, Jarley says. Nichols frequently shared his experiences in the corporate world with the students in his classes and as the faculty advisor for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) Knights.
“He always had a smile on his face and a personality that lit up a room,” says Jacob Woolf, integrated business student and president of CEO Knights. “I know that his passing will have an impact across the entire College of Business and beyond.”
Nichols took pride in every community in which he lived and worked. At UCF, he served on the Regional Campuses Faculty Forum, Information Technology Resource Advisory Committee and as a member of the Office of Student Conduct Board. He also worked with UCF Continuing Education providing workshops and consulting for organizations such as Adventist Health Systems Florida Hospital, Orange County Clerk of Court, State Attorney’s Office District 09, and several others. He had served as an executive board member for the United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties and was on the board of his family’s business in Lake County.
He is survived by his wife, Rebecca, their four children and three grandchildren. A Celebration of Life will be held Monday, Sept. 27, from 1:30-3 p.m., at the UCF College of Business in the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (Rm. 135 in BA-1) on main campus. Those who wish to attend may sign up here.