EAST LANSING – Jim Pignataro, a longtime Michigan State University Athletics member who led the student-athlete academic council, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 49 years old.
Former MSU football coachMark Dantonio wrote on Twitter that Pignataro was “a true Spartan” who faced his cancer diagnosis with strength and determination.
An MSU employee since 2002, Pignataro served as Director of Student-Athlete Support Services from 2002 to 2017. In 2016, he received the Lan Hewlett Award for his involvement in the academic council of student-athletes.
Pignataro has been battling a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called small lymphocytic lymphoma since 2015. At the end of 2018, his cancer progressed to large B cell lymphoma, also called Richter syndrome, requiring a bone marrow transplant.
The following spring, Dantonio’s football team partnered with head field hockey coach Helen Knull and her team to organize a bone marrow drive for Pignataro, in partnership with the National Marrow Donor Program.
“For everyone here it hits a bit of home,” Knull said at the time. “Jim is fighting for his life right now and a bone marrow transplant is going to be in his future. And he currently has no match.
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Angela Montie, a colleague of Pignataro for nearly 25 years, said in a recollection on the university’s website that no one is more passionate about his work than Pignataro, calling him a leader than many people across the country will cry.
Pignataro’s career in athletics began at the University of Tennessee, where he obtained a Masters of Sports Administration in 1995. He then went to Florida State University, where he worked in sports academic services until ‘in 1996, when he moved to MSU. He briefly left MSU in 2000 for a track and field position at Eastern Michigan University, but returned to MSU in 2002, where he ended his career.
Born in Queens, Pignataro spent most of his childhood in Maine. He graduated from Gray-New Gloucester High School in 1990 and was honored on the University of Maine at Farmington baseball team. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary business administration and economics before moving to Tennessee.
Pignataro is survived by his wife, Alana, and children Alison and Jimmy. His family was not immediately available for comment.
MSU did not share details of the funeral.
Todd Edwards, executive director of student-athlete support services, said in a statement that Pignataro is a mentor and friend to many and the epitome of service and leadership.
“His dedication to his faith and to his wonderful family, his wife Alana, Alison and Jimmy, is an example to all of us,” he said. “He has had a huge impact on my life and I will miss my dear friend deeply.”