Sunday, April 22, 2007

Humble professor readily helped everyone

Family members, colleagues and friends recalled a man who acted as a brother to all.

G.V. Loganathan

G.V. Loganathan

  • Professor of civil and environmental engineering, Virginia Tech.
  • Age: 53.
  • Education: bachelor's, Madras University; master's, Indian Institute of Technology; doctorate, Purdue University.
  • Family: wife, Usha; two daughters.
  • Residence: Blacksburg.
  • Related

BLACKSBURG -- They came from as far away as India to say goodbye to their teacher, father and friend. Those who couldn't be there, including prominent Indian leader Sonia Gandhi, sent their personal regards.

Several of the students wounded in Monday's shooting even managed to attend the funeral of Indian-born engineering professor G.V. Loganathan. One walked down the aisle of the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church on crutches to view his body and, along with 600 other mourners, place a single crimson rose petal on his chest.

The eulogizers -- who ranged from fellow professors and graduate students to family members -- spoke foremost of Loganathan's persistent, humble leadership. He was a four-time recipient of the College of Engineering Teaching Excellence Award and yet he tucked his prestigious awards inside his closet, telling his wife, "There are people who are better than me."

Teaching assistant Juneseok Lee -- the only one of Loganathan's five graduate assistants who wasn't killed in Monday's shooting -- remembered e-mails the professor regularly sent at 1 a.m., forcing "me to sit at my desk every night, and I had to respond right away."

The e-mails usually started with: "Let me give you some brotherly advice ..."

Fellow professor David Kibler praised Loganathan for taking on practical water-resources research projects that many in the field refused -- research that Kibler predicted would lead to improved forecasting of flash-flood warnings and better drought management.

The last conversation they had was a discussion about how to find funding for a needy, promising student. Loganathan proposed using money from the faculty's travel budget to keep the student in school.

The 53-year-old demanded perfection of his students, said Vinod Lohani, a former student who later became his colleague. While Lohani prepared his dissertation, Loganathan patiently listened to him practice his oral presentation, urging him repeatedly to draft one more version and coaching him to pronounce certain words.

Lohani said he was besieged with condolence e-mails from students as far away as Australia. "We lost count of the number of times he'd drive from his home in the middle of the night -- whenever he thought a question we had could best be answered in person," he said.

Loganathan taught large classes with 100 students -- and "knew virtually everyone's name," recalled William Knocke, another engineering professor.

He was a man who saw teaching as a noble calling, according to his brother, G.V. Sengotuvelavan, who remembered Loganathan's fondness for cricket, chess and James Bond films. "We all owe our lives to him, for he did his duty perfectly as the elder brother of all of us," he said.

Loganathan's daughter Uma, an engineering student at the University of Virginia, called him her best friend and her hero. He frequently read her textbooks before she did to be able to engage her in discussions and debates.

But his interests ranged far beyond engineering, she added, especially where his wife, Usha, and two daughters were concerned. "I could tell him the stupidest things, and he'd listen as if it was the most important thing on the planet," Uma Loganathan said.

Throughout the two-hour service, members of Blacksburg's tight-knit Indian community took care of shepherding mourners through condolence lines, handing out programs and telling people where to park.

National media were kept at bay, and cameras were not allowed inside the church.

Newland Agbenowosi, a native of Ghana who studied under the slain professor for six years, had packed his infant and two toddlers into the back of his van Saturday for the five-hour drive from Northern Virginia with his wife.

"I had to be here," he said. "It was the least I could do."

Doctoral student Craig Moore rushed to the service after attending the funeral of Narrows native Jarrett Lee Lane, who was in Loganathan's class when he was killed. Moore had just taken his professional engineering exam, an open-book test in Richmond, the day before -- using books he'd borrowed from Loganathan.

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