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Annual Faculty and Staff Memorial Service

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Chapel and Cultural Center
Rensslelaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Good morning. It is a privilege to be here this morning, to participate with you in this service of remembrance. I wish to welcome, especially, the families of the men and women whom we honor today. Thank you for being here, and thank you for sharing your loved ones with us.

I thank, as well, the Pillars of Rensselaer for planning this memorial.

These annual services draw us together, as we recall with joy—and with sadness—the lives of men and women from the Troy and Hartford campuses who touched our own lives and helped to shape the character of this university.

Even as we gather here, a number of others are gathered at a memorial service in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to celebrate the life of Carl Westerdahl, who died April 3 and who added so much to Rensselaer—writing part of its history (Where Imagination Achieves the Impossible, celebrating the achievements of its alumni through the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame, and recognizing the importance of the Rensselaer Staff by, establishing, with Susan Clarke, the Pillars of Rensselaer award. (The Pillars, of course, organize this memorial service). You also may know that, in 1977, he was one of the “inventors” of the Big Red Freakout.

We remember Carl Westerdahl as former Dean of Students and Director of Alumni and Community Relations, and as the man who, in “retirement,” frequently was consulted for his knowledge of Institute and local history.

The overlap of today’s memorial remembrance with Carl’s service could not be helped, but we know that Carl would have wanted us to go forward in remembering all members of the Rensselaer family who have passed away.  And, so, we are here to remember Carl Westerdahl and all of those who lit up our world.

Some of those we honor today left Rensselaer years ago; three were still in service when they passed away. Some served at Rensselaer for a few years; others devoted their entire working lives to the Institute.

Above all, they were individuals, each with unique gifts and passions; each leaving a special legacy to us and to the university.

Dr. Paul DeRusso ’53, is remembered as a devoted teacher and administrator who established degree programs in computer and systems engineering, and the PREFACE Summer Program. But did you know that he also was a horseracing enthusiast, who developed a handicapping business?

Were you aware that when she was not working in Rensselaer’s accounting office, Genevieve Lahunt cooked up “legendary” raspberry jam? Or that Dr. Jack Hollingsworth, former professor of mathematics and computer science, and former librarian Connie Nugent Vandenbosch both were proud winners of the Meanest Man on Campus charitable fundraising drive?

Several served in the U.S. Armed Forces, earning such medals as the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart, but only one, Dr. Thornton Lauber, claimed to have graduated from Officer Candidate School with “the second most demerits in the history of the school.”

The whole fabric of their lives – who they were on and off campus – enriched us, the entire Rensselaer community, and the lives of all whom they touched.

In a few minutes, the Pillars of Rensselaer will light a candle in memory of each of these people. Each flame, shining alone, will represent one life—a life that in its own, unique way, contributed to our community, and to our world. All of the candles, burning together, will serve as a powerful reminder of the warmth and light generated by many lives coming together at a particular point in space and time. But, unlike the flames of these small candles, which will be extinguished at the end of our service, the light generated by the lives of these men and women will shine on in our hearts forever, and will help to light our way into the future.

As we were reminded by the ancient scripture read a moment ago by Father Ed, the deeds of these men and women “have not been forgotten” [and] their wealth will remain with [us], their descendents...Their bodies are buried in peace, but their names live on—generation after generation.”

There is no way of knowing where their influence will end. But we do know this. These men and women were our friends, and their lives blessed our lives. They will be missed, but we shall always be grateful for the imprint they leave on our hearts. Our memory of them will enrich and encourage us in the days ahead.

Let us go forward in remembrance.

Thank you.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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