Saturday, April 21, 2007

Professor honored at memorial

Kevin Granata was one of the world's top scientists studying cerebral palsy, a colleague said.

Mourners comfort one another Friday as they emerge from Blacksburg Presbyterian Church after a memorial for Kevin Granata.

AP photo

Mourners comfort one another Friday as they emerge from Blacksburg Presbyterian Church after a memorial for Kevin Granata.

Kevin Granata

Kevin Granata


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BLACKSBURG -- He decided in the spring to coach Blacksburg youth lacrosse.

But actually, he began the job in January, reading everything he could on the sport.

As the season got under way, Kevin Granata told his brother-in-law he wanted the players to learn one thing: When you get knocked down, you have to get up.

"I think that's appropriate to what we're going through this week," a tearful Michael Diersing told a packed church during his brother-in-law's memorial Friday.

Four days after a shooter's campus rampage took the lives of Granata, a biomedical engineering professor, and 31 others, funerals began here in the heart of Hokie country. It was a day when people across the country wore maroon and orange, showing strength through Virginia Tech's colors.

At Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, a constant stream of mourners poured in. The sanctuary was full, and the balcony was full, and the overflow spilled out into the lobby, where folks stood against walls as the organ played in low, somber tunes.

It's the fullest the Rev. Alex Evans has ever seen the church. The black-robed preacher, who led the congregation through "Amazing Grace," estimated the crowd to be about 800.

In the standing-room-only sanctuary, where attire ranged from suits to maroon T-shirts to Tech-colored armbands sporting Granata's initials, there was no mention of anger toward the shooter who took the researcher and family man's life at 45.

There were tears, but no questions as to why. Rather than view the day as one of despair, those who remembered Granata chose to focus on his life, his desire to better the world and to encourage others to do the same.

The crowd included relatives and neighbors, from both the Blacksburg and university community. Tech President Charles Steger was there, with police protection.

Ishwar Puri, head of Tech's engineering science and mechanics department, described Granata as ethical, moral and uplifting. He was a man who answered the call of higher education and helped mold young leaders who, in turn, had hopes of making the world better.

Granata answered that call, Puri said, right until death.

When the killer, a gun in each hand, stepped into Norris Hall classrooms and started shooting students and teachers Monday morning, Granata shepherded students into his third-floor office. Then, he walked downstairs to the second floor to investigate.

"He never returned to his office again," Puri said.

Yet the time this rising researcher lived did not go to waste. Puri said Granata taught other professors to be professors. He was one of the top scientists in the world trying to understand cerebral palsy -- why those with the disease stumble and fall -- all with the hope of making them better.

"Great people will follow ... because of his leadership," Puri said.

One by one, Granata's colleagues, neighbors, relatives and teachers stood behind the church pulpit, sharing thoughts that made the crowd laugh, and often, choke back tears. He was remembered as intellectual, humble, a committed father of three who never missed a chance to make fun of himself.

He was a husband, a professor whose first question was "What can I do for you?" when someone walked in his office and a dedicated -- if not always great -- lacrosse coach.

As the congregation spilled out of the sanctuary, a teary-eyed Michael Quinn, 16, walked out of the church in his lacrosse jersey. Granata coached his little brother Daniel in lacrosse, and he was one of Daniel's favorites.

Quinn was approached by a handful of reporters, asking for his thoughts.

Michael shared a few polite, solemn words before leaving. He had a game to get to in Lynchburg. One to win for Mr. Granata.

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