Remembering Feng Liu

A loving father, husband and mentor
Jul. 31, 2014 @ 10:09 AM

It was a somber celebration of life Wednesday night, exactly one week since the brutal attack took the life of Feng Liu, a University of North Carolina professor.

Colleagues, students, strangers and members of the UNC family came out to remember  Liu, who many described as a loving husband, father and mentor.

“Today we are here together, still in shock, dismay and sadness, to pay tribute to professor Feng Liu,” Tony Yao, president of The Chinese-American Friendship Association of North Carolina said during the candlelight vigil. “He loved his family unequivocally and selflessly.”

Liu, who came to UNC in 2005, was a research professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Much of his research focused on drug delivery to cancer cells. Many of his colleagues mourned the loss not only of a friend, but also of a man who worked tirelessly to help save the lives of others.

Xiao Xiao was a colleague of Liu’s. He spoke briefly on behalf of Liu’s family, as they were not able to attend. Liu’s daughter, who is in Asheville, is expecting a child in two months.

“Unfortunately Feng Liu cannot live to see his granddaughter (being born),” Xiao said. “He had only seen the ultrasound.” Other colleagues spoke about how excited he was for his future granddaughter, including all of the baby clothing he had bought for her.

Xiao described Liu as a humble man and remembered his smile.

“He was always smiling,” Xiao said. “He was a world-renowned, outstanding scientist ... He never bragged about it.”

Members of the UNC administration spoke about the impact Liu had on the school during his almost 10 years at the institution.

“We have clearly lost a wonderful member of our community and we will never really be the same without him,” UNC Provost James Dean Jr. said.

He urged those in the audience to try to be better people in memory of Liu.

“Since we are losing such a wonderful man, a wonderful teacher, a wonderful researcher, a wonderful friend,” Dean said. “All I can hope is that maybe all of us can pick up the slack a little bit in his memory.”

Chancellor Carol Folt also addressed the audience, describing Liu as a brilliant scientist.

Bob Blouin, dean of the Eshelman School, helped recruit Liu to UNC almost 10 years ago.

“Most of us would just be satisfied to know that we were in the midst of a truly outstanding scientist,” Blouin said. “But not all of us knew the other dimension of Dr. Liu, and that dimension was that of a humanist; a person who had a genuine love for other people.”

Blouin said it was that genuine love of other people and his dedication to mentoring students that drove them to create an endowment for graduate students. Liu was always excited to come to work, Blouin said, and it was that excitement that helped make him a remarkable person.

Qiang Li, a professor at Duke University, also spoke at Liu’s vigil. Li and Liu grew up in the same hometown in China, and Li went to medical school with Liu’s wife.

“I do not have, words, to describe ... it’s a tragedy,” Li said.

The crowd included not only his colleagues, but also people who had never met Liu.

Cameron Wong, of Chapel Hill, came out to remember Liu because of his contributions to his research and the Chinese-American community

“ The Chinese-American Community is kind of close,” Wong said. Wong had heard about Liu’s death last week, and after reading Liu’s biography felt compelled to support his family and the community.

“It’s sad to know that someone who did a lot for the community had to die,” Wong said.

As the vigil ended those in attendance walked to the intersection of West University Drive and Ransom Street, where he was attacked July 23 about 1 p.m.

Two men were taken into custody in connection with his death. Troy Arrington and Derick Davis were arrested shortly after the attack. Both are charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery.

During the vigil, many Chinese traditions were used, such as bowing three times. Half of Liu’s ashes have been spread in the mountains in Asheville; the second half of his ashes will be brought back to China in a plot near his parents.

“Feng will always live in our hearts,” Xiao said.

A memorial for Liu will be held on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Memorial Hall on UNC’s campus.