Friends and colleagues of UCLA professor William Klug gathered Friday at the campus Court of Sciences to share stories that celebrated the life and mourned the loss of the professor who was shot and killed in his office two days earlier.
Friday’s vigil extended comfort directly to Klug’s extended family in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, where he was a professor since 2003 in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. As more than 500 people arrived, many welcomed each other with quiet, somber hugs and stood before a wreath of flowers and a picture of Klug, 39, whom they remembered as a friend, teacher, colleague, husband and father of two young children.
“Bill was a brilliant engineer, he was a scholar in the prime of his career, and he was a caring and compassionate teacher,” said Jayathi Murthy, dean of the engineering school. “In layman’s terms, he tried to find out how viruses and membranes and the human heart work, and so he had collaborators all across UCLA. And the last couple of days, I’ve had calls and emails from so many of them telling me how much his work meant to them and how much his friendship meant to them. And so today we are heartbroken. … We will miss him forever.”
Klug’s death in a shooting on June 1 was an extraordinary loss for UCLA and an unthinkable loss for his family, said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. Bruins need each other’s kindness and support more than ever now, he said.
“I share your grief at this awful loss,” Block said. “We all know that every life is precious, and that every life that is lost, especially in this community that is so close, is a loss to all of us … I hope we can reach out to one another to provide one another with comfort, compassion, and solace that’s so important at a time like this.”
After a moment of silence for Klug, his department chair, Tsu-Chin Tsao, recalled the young professor joining mechanical and aerospace engineering in 2003 and watching his progress over the years.
“I often saw him interact with students. He’s very soft spoken … very nice, very kind. But I also know he’s very firm, he’s very demanding of students’ work, and that shows in his research work, also,” Tsao said. “Over time I was thinking, ‘Gee, the young Bill that I had an impression of, he’s really prospering … and he and a few of our other faculty of his age are going to become the core of our department.’”
Then misfortune struck, Tsao said. “Our hearts go out to Bill’s family,” he said. “As we respectfully observe the privacy of Bill’s family, as they requested, we are eagerly standing by, wanting to connect with Bill’s wife, Mary Elise, to extend our strongest support. … She’s also part of our MAE family.”
Klug’s office neighbor Jeff Eldredge, a fellow professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, spoke at the vigil along with their colleague, Professor Pirouz Kavehpour. Eldredge and Klug were graduate students together at Caltech, where they played softball together. Klug was the level-headed one when games went sour, Eldredge said. The pair started work at UCLA the same day, shared a lab together for 13 years, and started off writing many failed proposals together, Eldredge said.
“We figured out how to be professors together,” Eldredge said. “Sharing a lab, you share much more, and with offices right next to each other, I consider Bill and Pirouz to be my work spouses … they are the people who you look forward to talking to in the morning.”
This year, they finally began collaborating on their first project together, Eldredge added.
“It’s been really a wonderful chance for us to work together and to guide the students, and I can’t understand how I’m going to be able to do without that,” he said, choking up. He collected himself enough to speak one more sentence of farewell to his friend, his voice thick with emotion: “Bill was a person I really admired in this world and I’m going to miss him.”
Kavehpour said that walking down the hall to talk to Klug and Eldredge was part of his daily routine. With Klug a Dodgers fan and Eldredge a Giants fan, they needed an intermediary, he hinted.
So each morning, “We talk baseball, we talk failed proposals, sometimes — rarely — successful proposals, and we talk family. And we considered each other brothers,” he said tearfully. “He’s also a fantastic teacher. When I advise undergrads, I always ask who they like. Bill’s name almost always comes up.”
He has been looking through Bill’s research the past couple of days, Kavehpour said. “Maybe Bill is gone,” he told the crowd, “but really, Bill is with us, through his publications, through his work, through his fantastic scientific contributions.”
Third-year engineering doctoral student Amit Singh spoke last, sharing stories about his adviser. Singh recalled how he and others in Klug’s research group fondly called their professor “Boss,” and like Klug favored Macs and Linux over Windows and shared a strange affinity for fountain pens, which almost everyone in the lab used. He described his adviser as kind, helpful, patient and humble.
“He made the statement that, ‘Helping others to learn and grow is part of my profession, and without it, there’s not much left’,” Singh said. “It’s very tragic to think that I can no longer just walk into his office and ask, ‘Boss, do you have time to help me out with this?’”
As Singh stepped away from the podium to rejoin the audience, singer Nina Kasuya stepped forward to sing “Imagine” by John Lennon.
This was the second emotional gathering held on campus to remember Professor Klug. On Thursday night, more than 1,000 students and community members stood silently, listened to speakers and held up lights in Bruin Plaza.
Story by Alison Hewitt/UCLA Newsroom
Photos by Reed Hutchinson/UCLA