FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Fairfield University faculty and staff were in shock Thursday, mourning the loss of Gisela Gil Egui, a warm, accomplished associate professor of communication with a penchant for laughter and cigars who died early Wednesday with her husband, mother and brother in a horrific accident on I-95 in Florida.
A 23-year-old wrong-way driver slammed into the car carrying Gil Egui, 48, and her husband, Jose Martin Labrador, 52, of Bridgeport, at about 1 a.m. Friends said the couple had traveled to Miami to ring in the New Year with her two brothers and their mother, who had traveled from Venezuela and would have been reunited with all three of her children for the first time in years.
The crash also took the lives of Gil Egui’s brother, 47-year-old Miguel Gil of Copper City, Fla., who was driving, and her mother, 71-year-old Gisela Margarita Egui Hernandez. The woman driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes was also killed and has not been publicly identified by police.
Originally from Venezuela, Gil Egui was remembered as a funny and friendly colleague and a tireless supporter of city youth in her adopted hometown of Bridgeport.
Bryan Ripley Crandall, director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, wrote an open letter to Gil Egui on his blog, recalling her interest in inspiring students.
“You wanted your communication students to go beyond traditional academia and into service learning that was beneficial to them and the community,” he wrote. “We met at (Bridgeport’s) Bassick High School and together we walked through the halls where you spoke Spanish to the students and offered your vision to the administrators and teachers.”
Gil Egui transformed her Mass Media and Society class into a service learning course in partnership with the Black Rock branch of the Bridgeport Public Library, said Melissa Quan, associate director of the university’s Center for Faith and Public Life. Her students visited the library weekly, working with youth on viewing the media with a more critical eye.
“Gisela was one of the most generous people that I have ever met,” Quan said. “She was generous with her time, with her commitment and with her friendship.”
Gil Egui and Labrador were “authentically present” for family and friends, said Renée White, a dean at Simmons College and former Fairfield U. professor.
“They were cultivators of relationships,” she said. “They tended to friends with care and love.”
Labrador was acting director of education technology at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.
Jocelyn Boryczka, chair of the politics department, remembered Gil Egui’s keen interest in social justice. Early in December, she was at the forefront of a successful quest to reinstate Fairfield’s janitorial staff hours to evenings instead of nights to protect their family lives, Boryczka said.
“I always think of her as a crusader, standing on the side of people whose voices need to be heard,” Boryczka said. “She meant the world to me. She was a dear friend.”
Boryczka said she will miss Gil Egui’s lively nature and intense political conversations, as well as her love of cigars and a good laugh.
“She took life seriously, but not so seriously that she didn’t know when to laugh at it as well,” she said.
Fairfield University will hold a memorial when the spring semester begins.
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