Patricia Ferraioli

Patricia Ferraioli operates a camera at Walt Disney Studios.

GUILDERLAND — Patricia Ferraioli, whose friends and family called her “Pat,” was a woman of compassion, curiosity, and intelligence who made her own path in life, said her nephew Richard Darling. She was a “Renaissance woman” who worked as a professor of government and women’s studies after taking a leave of absence during her doctoral studies to operate a camera at Walt Disney Studios in California “because, ‘why not?’” her nephew said.

She died on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. She was 62.

It was at Disney that she was exposed to a way of thinking that would shape her teaching and the rest of her life, Darling said. “Blue-sky thinking” is a type of brainstorming the company employs, he said, to encourage people to think, at first, of what they would like to be able to do, unconstrained by any thoughts of cost or realism.

Once they have come up with ideas, Darling said, they eventually begin to look at how they could make them happen. Ms. Ferraioli went on to teach her many students to adopt this same approach to decisions about their own lives.

She worked on a number of films without credit, but received credit for the film “The Rescuers Down Under,” Darling said, before earning her Ph.D. from the University at Albany in political theory, international relations, and American politics. She taught at Schenectady and Adirondack community colleges, LeMoyne College, and the University at Albany.

As a professor at Skidmore College in the government department — now the political science department — she was “lauded by students and colleagues as a creative and innovative communicator in the classroom,” her family wrote in a tribute. She was also a Fulbright lecturer at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

One of Ms. Ferraioli’s most popular classes at Skidmore was “Sex and Power,” Mr. Darling said, which considered the dynamics of relationships through the lens of a struggle for power. She taught a wide range of classes, from introduction to government to women’s studies and gender studies “including the LGBTQ-plus population,” Mr. Darling said.

She also did research into Native American and American Indian policy, said her nephew, noting that she used both those terms because different tribes refer to themselves in different ways. Her research in this area took her to the far northern reaches of Canada with the Inuit peoples, he said, and brought extensive lecturing opportunities.

But she focused mainly on the Haudenosaunee peoples closer to home, Mr. Darling said. She had some of her students do summer research programs on topics such as the most critical issues currently facing the Mohawk tribe or any other of the Haudenosaunee nations.

Ms. Ferraioli also served as a mediator and a trainer in conflict resolution, Mr. Darling said, and worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.

She was a lifelong adventurer, her nephew said, and traveled the outback of Australia alone during a visit to that continent to see family. For years, she and her nephew would hike Hadley Mountain in Hadley, New York every weekend. “That was ‘our mountain,’” Mr. Darling recalled. It was her favorite, he said.

Ms. Ferraioli loved and was exceptionally skilled at photography as well as at baking creative birthday cakes for her nieces and nephews, her nephew recalled. “She decorated all of our family cakes, superbly well,” he said.

Qigong became a way of life for her in her later years, Mr. Darling said, and not just the practice of slow, flowing movements and meditative state of mind, but also a very strict diet based on Chinese principles and intended to increase energy. She also practiced tai chi.

When she served as commencement speaker at Skidmore College one year, she talked about conflict resolution, her nephew said, and arranged to have an aikido martial artist on stage with her, making broad and fluid movements to demonstrate the points she was making.

“The faculty at Skidmore and the students speak so highly of her,” Mr. Darling said, adding, “She was never a trained teacher. She had to figure it out herself.” She transformed classrooms, he said; she nurtured, rather than lectured.

Patricia Ferraioli was born on May 10, 1956 in Altamont, the third of nine children of Richard and Margaret Anne (née Quinn) Ferraioli. Her father owned Ferraioli Water Wells, and her mother, who had been a nurse, stayed at home with the children.

Ms. Ferraioli attended Guilderland schools, graduating from Guilderland High School in 1974. After graduating, she became the first student to run for the school board, losing by a narrow margin.

Her love of mountains probably grew out of living as a child on Hawes Road at the base of the Helderbergs and looking up at the escarpment every day, Mr. Darling said.

After high school, Ms. Ferraioli worked at a bank and for the Price Chopper Corporation before taking courses in sign language and speech pathology. She switched to science and math education until she discovered a passion for political science.

She graduated magna cum laude from the University at Albany in 1981 and then earned her master’s degree with a cumulative 4.0 average. Granted a presidential fellowship, she went on to earn her Ph.D.

She loved all dogs, especially the dogs she owned earlier, Rumple and Helene, who died before her, and a Maltese named Frodo Chesterton Gibbs whom she owned together with Mr. Darling.

Ms. Ferraioli retired from Skidmore in 2012, in her mid-fifties, after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Mr. Darling cared for her at his home in Pattersonville in Schenectady County throughout most of her illness, although near the end she entered Kingsway Arms Nursing Center.

“She lived frugally, gave of herself generously, and brought joy, laughter, and encouragement to those around her,” her family wrote in a tribute.

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Patricia Ferraioli is survived by her siblings: Antonio Ferraioli and his domestic partner, Kathy Lien; Joanne Darling-Wagner and her husband, Bob Wagner; Barbara Ferraioli; Timothy Ferraioli; Daniel Ferraioli; and Martha Ferraioli.

She is also survived by her nieces and nephews: Angela Wezowicz and her husband, Rick; Peter Darling and his domestic partner, Laura Tortoricci; Jennifer Finazzo and her husband, Patrick; Daniel Darling and his wife, Rebecca; Katie Darling; Richard Darling and his fiancée, Marissa Langenthal; Lily Ferraioli; and Liam Thompson.

She is survive, too, by her great-nieces and great-nephews: Jonathan, Matthew, Kaelyn, Levi, Esther, Daniel, and Benjamin; Zoe, Zachary, and Zanna; and Rory and Miles.

Her parents, Richard and Margaret Anne (née Quinn) Ferraioli died before her, as did her brothers, Peter Ferraioli and Robert Ferraioli.

Her brother James Ferraioli died after her, on Dec. 20.

At her request, there will be no services. Mourners may leave condolences online at www.demarcostonefuneralhome.com.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 4 Pine West Plaza #405, Albany, 12205.

— Elizabeth Floyd Mair

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