So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

As family and friends head to funeral, Joseph Gatto remembered as a gifted teacher

Joseph Joe Gatto Mike City Council

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Pallbearers bring the casket of Joseph Gatto down the steps of Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz on November 25th. Gatto was shot dead in his Silver Lake home. The murderer has not been found.

Joseph Joe Gatto Mike City Council

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Danielle, Isolde and Mike Gatto hold hands after the funeral for Joseph Gatto on November 25th, 2013.

Joseph Joe Gatto Mike City Council

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Mariann Gatto, daughter of Joseph Gatto, embraces a priest at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz on November 25th after the funeral mass for her father.

Joseph Joe Gatto Mike City Council

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Isolde Gatto, the former wife of Joseph Gatto, embraces a friend outside Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz on November 25th, 2013. Joseph Gatto was found shot to death in his Silver Lake home on November 13th.

Joseph Joe Gatto Mike City Council

Mae Ryan/KPCC

An attendee of Joseph Gatto's funeral leaves Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz on November 25th, 2013.

Joseph Joe Gatto Mike City Council

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Mike Gatto embraces a friend outside the funeral for his father Joseph Gatto, who was killed in his Silver Lake home.

Kent Twitchell

Joseph Gatto died at age 78 in Silver Lake.

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

A photo from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts 1988 yearbook, a few years after Gatto started at the school as a teacher and the chair of the visual arts department.

Courtesy of Mariann Gatto

Courtesy of Mariann Gatto

Joseph Gatto mural

Courtesy Kent Twitchell

"Free Assembly," a mural by L.A. artist Kent Twitchell that was dedicated on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, shows Joseph Gatto sitting, center, in a leather jacket and peering over his left shoulder. Twitchell, a friend of Gatto's, wanted to use real military veterans. Gatto was found murdered in his home just days after the dedication.

A photo of Joseph Gatto during his college years.

Photo courtesy of Mariann Gatto

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

A photo of Joseph Gatto from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts 1986-1987 yearbook.


Joseph Gatto made his students feel like there was nothing they couldn't do. 

"He just had a way of being able to open these doors for us, to be able to kind of explore, and find our own voice," said artist Robert Vargas, who was a student of Gatto's at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in the early 1990s.

Gatto, who was shot to death Nov. 13 at his home in Silver Lake, will be buried Monday. Police have not arrested any suspects in the crime.

The unexpected loss of Gatto, whose son is Mike Gatto, of the California assembly has hit the arts community hard.

"It's shocking. It's shocking," said former student Rachel Bitan, fighting off tears."It's just horrible. He spent his whole life helping people. And doing what he loved."

Bitan said she'd just seen Gatto a few weeks ago and recently commissioned a bracelet from him. Gatto was well known for his unique jewelry pieces. 

"He was full of life," she said. "He could have gone on 20 more years."

Gatto taught for more than 45 years at a variety of schools including Cal State Northridge, the Art Center in Pasadena and Pierce College. When the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts opened in 1985, he was named chair of the visual arts department. He led arts instruction there until he retired in 2002. He was honored twice at the White House.

"He was intimidating, and he had a really strong personality. But at the same time, he really brought the best out of you," said Sonia Romero, who graduated from the arts high school in 1998. Like many of his former students, she remembered Gatto for his critiques.

Malaika Latty said Gatto was her mentor. In August, she landed his former job: chair of the visual arts department for the high school.

"He reminded me that you really come into a position like this as an educator purely because of the joy it brings you," she said. "He loved his students and he was so there for us."

She works in Gatto's former art office, surrounded by memories of him as she grieves his death.

Since his death, former students and friends from all over the world have offered his daughter their condolences.

"One of the only bits of consolation during this horrific time has been the outpouring of support," Mariann Gatto said. "My father was my best friend. We were incredibly close."  

Police have released a sketch of a man who could be a suspect. The funeral for the 78 year old will take place Monday at 10 a.m. at Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Los Feliz. A private reception and graveside burial will follow.

The Los Angeles High School for the Arts plans to hold an event celebrating Gatto's life in January. The school encourages alumni who want to attend to get in touch.

School officials said they're also planning a scholarship and award for student recognition in his honor. 

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