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In Memory of Gary Colletti

by Stan Swim
Chief Program Officer, Bill of Rights Institute

The education community has lost a tireless advocate, a valued colleague, and a dear friend.

Gary Colletti, Director of Teacher and Student Programs for the Bill of Rights Institute, passed away on November 5, 2021.

He was 46 years old and is survived by his adoring wife, Rachel, and scores of admirers in every corner of the country.

Those who knew Gary were often left with the same impression. He was, quite simply, one of the most naturally gifted educators they had ever met.

Gary believed in life-long learning, and he relentlessly pursued knowledge. He could astonish you with his deep understanding of American history one moment and his command of ancient Greek philosophy the next.

Most importantly, Gary used his passion for teaching and learning to inspire countless students and fellow educators.

A native New Yorker, Gary taught history, philosophy, sociology and theatre for 14 years in New York City and Virginia schools. He was one of many dedicated New York City teachers who helped support students through the horrors of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Gary had such a knack for connecting with young people that a 10th-grade student once asked for detention so they could continue their discussion on Plato and Aristotle.

Gary was as approachable as he was knowledgeable.

When Gary joined BRI three years ago, he found a new way to serve the educators and students he cared so deeply about.

Gary helped spearhead professional development opportunities for civics and history teachers throughout the United States. The many teachers who met Gary on his travels could always count on his warm smile, friendly demeanor, and earnest desire to help them succeed.

At BRI, Gary was able to maintain his direct connection with students through programs like the summer Constitutional Academy and the Think the Vote web platform, where students engage in civil discourse on key issues. Through the many students he helped influence, Gary’s impact will be felt for a very long time.

“Gary was a wonderful mixture of brilliance and compassion,” said BRI President David Bobb. “I admired his ability to approach situations with both deep thought and great empathy. Those qualities made him a talented educator and manager, and a beloved member of the BRI family.”

“Gary was the most emotionally intelligent person I have ever known,” added BRI Director of Outreach Rachel Davison Humphries, who frequently collaborated with Gary on professional development programs. “He truly listened with his whole self, and was the most considerate colleague and friend one could imagine. He was private about many things, but that helped him have a kind of magic, where you knew he would hold space for you and your concerns and deeply consider them. He was justly admired in so many communities, and he leaves a vast hole in our lives.”

We will be sharing additional plans to honor Gary’s legacy. And we hope you will take a moment to share your memories of Gary by emailing us at

But there is something powerful that we can all do today to celebrate Gary and all that he meant to us.

Gary believed in a constant journey of self-reflection and improvement. He encouraged his students, fellow teachers, and BRI team members to always be the best versions of themselves.

Let’s strive to do that every day. I believe that is a tribute that Gary would have admired and appreciated. Thank you for your example and influence, Gary, and may your memory long comfort your family and so many others whose lives you touched.

Whether on the job or off, Gary was an anchor for the whole BRI team. His keen intelligence and quick wit kept us all learning and laughing.