Police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance rushed to the Administration Building on Wednesday afternoon, responding to a call that a University official had suddenly collapsed.
USF Foundation board member Robert Dressler was giving a speech to the University Investment Committee when he suddenly appeared to have difficulty breathing and toppled over, said University spokesman Michael Hoad. Dressler was put into an ambulance and taken to the University Community Hospital.
The 83-year-old trustee died at the hospital. As of press time, the cause of death is unknown.
President Judy Genshaft was not at the meeting but said as soon as Dressler collapsed, people came into her office and got her.
“It was a terrible feeling, very scary,” she said. “You want to help immediately, you want to do everything you can to help an individual who is ill.”
Genshaft said she went straight to the room where Dressler was speaking, but quickly left to search for Dressler’s wife, Edie, who had driven Dressler to the University and was waiting in the car outside.
Genshaft said Edie Dressler saw the ambulance drive up and stop in front of the Administration Building and came up to the second floor, where her husband was speaking.
“And I saw her,” Genshaft said. “I told her that he had been speaking and that he had just collapsed.”
She said Edie Dressler’s response was one of “great shock and fright and concern.”
“You just want to reach out and help and be of some assistance, of some consolation,” Genshaft said.
Genshaft said the USF community reacted immediately.
“We were there the minute he fell, someone was there trying to revive him and resuscitate him,” she said. “Everybody was there acting responsibly and responsively.”
During his time at USF, Robert Dressler served in many different leadership positions, including his role as a Trustee of the USF Foundation since 1982 and as a member of the USF Research Foundation since 2003.
His friend and co-worker, Associate Vice President for Innovation Paul Sanberg, said Dressler has been a mentor to him during their 17-year friendship.
“I’m younger than him,” he said. “He’s always given me some great ideas.”
Sanberg said Dressler always tried to brighten the mood.
“Although it might be a serious discussion, he really tried to look at the heart of an issue and lighten it up,” he said.
Dressler always “stood out,” Sanberg said, because his expertise traveled across different platforms. Dressler was a scientist, a financier and an entrepreneur. He could even repair watches, Sanberg said.
“Bob was incredibly intelligent, very smart and always had time for everybody and was very interested in all sorts of aspects of life,” he said.
Beyond his roles at the University — which also included memberships with the USF Center for Entrepreneurship Board of Advisors, the USF College of Engineering Advisory Board and the USF University Advancement Campaign Executive Committee — Sanberg said Dressler was a strong arts supporter in Tampa.
“He had a great love for the arts,” Sanberg said. “He really offered his time to a lot of volunteer work with the Tampa fine arts community.”
Over the years, their friendship grew closer, he said, and they spent much time outside of the University.
“(We) spent a lot of time doing outside things,” he said, “such as going to see plays and fine arts.”
Sanberg and Genshaft agreed that his death will impact the University.
“He was brilliant,” she said. “He will definitely be missed.”
A funeral service will take place at 10 a.m. Friday at Congregation Rodeph Sholom Synagogue.