Thursday, January 13, 2011
One of the members of my thesis committee, Tom, died today. I just got the email. He had been battling cancer and had had a pretty risky surgery a few weeks ago, but he seemed to be recovering well. I am just so sad about this. Not only was he one of my committee members, but he was also a colleague and a friend and a really great scientist. I took a class with him when I was a first year. He was this really amazing scientist, had done some really wonderful things, and here he was, laughing and joking and amiable as they come. I was intimidated by his intelligence, but his reprimands were always delivered with a lot of heart, making you a better scientist, a more critical thinking, without putting anyone down. He set up the class in a way that we participated, and we wanted to participate. The class was always full, every year, such that people had to justify why they were taking the class in order to get it. Tom was jovial, always had a smile on his face, and came up with great questions and ideas and discussions. From the time of the class until now (nearly 8 years later), Tom has been a presence in my life at school. He's always been supportive and engaged in my committee meetings, he's attended seminars weekly (so much so, that, when he's absent, it's weird). I attended the defense of his student, I asked his opinion on my prelim, I asked his advice on postdocs and careers. And now, he's gone. Poof. Just like that. And, inexplicable (or perhaps not), I've had Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" going around and around in my head. Tom, you will never know how many lives you have touched, how many scientists you have encouraged and influenced. I am so glad I was able to have you as a mentor and a colleague for as long as I did. You are truly the example of exceptional scientist that I want to emulate. This is a hole in our departments and our lives. My sincerest thoughts and condolences go out to your family and friends. I'm just not sure what we'll do without you.