Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Supervisor, Alex ...

On March 12th, just after a Sunday hike in Blue Hill Reservation in outskirts of Boston, I received three emails from Waterloo. Ian Munoro, senior professor in Algorithms group in Waterloo, as well as Khuzaima Daudjee, in Database group, and Daniela, a friend, informed me that my PhD supervisor, Alejandro Lopez Ortiz, had died earlier in that day. I had visited Alex last time in February, where I found him very thin and tired. He had lost almost half of his body weight, and looked very exhausted. There was no further treatment, and he was just waiting for his time to go.
In our last meeting, I took my PhD degree to the hospital and asked him to sign it. Instead, he wrote a long note on the back of its cover. It remains very dear to me. That meeting happened in Waterloo general hospital cafe, where Alex's two kids, his father, and Daniela were present
I attended the memorial for Alex on Saturday, March 18th, just before the Spring and the Iranian new year. A music was being played, which was selected by Alex, and we were given a sheet of paper with a poem that he chose for this occasion. I realized that he has done many of the arrangements, as this sad occasion was expected.

For me, Alex was a fun friend and boss,  who taught me a lot about research, and about life. He helped me a lot in all stages of our collaboration, from the moment that I met him for the first time seeking for a professor who helps me switch adviser, to the moment that I was negotiating my job offer with University of Manitoba. I remember the time that I received an email from Dr. David Johnson, my PhD external committee member whom I wanted to work with as a postdoc, informing me that we probably cannot work together since he had cancer. When I told Alex that David has cancer, Alex became very sad and shocked.  That happened a bit before Alex himself was diagnosed with a much worse cancer. I remember the day that he was diagnosed, and how gloomy and shocked all the Algorithms lab was. I left Waterloo for MIT a month after. Alex helped me a lot on this path, and later I realized that David has also recommended me for that position. I miss both of them. David passed away a few months earlier than Alex. I lost two great mentors in a few months. I cannot stop thinking about Alex. He will be dearly missed.

p.s. here and here are two pages on Alex's memory.

p.s. the first picture is from the day of my defense. From left to right: Ian, me, Alex, Jonothon Buss, David, and Jochen Koenmann. The second picture is from the day of my convocation with Alex.


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