Hundreds mourn slain professor, honor his memory
Just over a week since the tragic death of a University of North Carolina professor and research, the community came together one last time to hold a memorial in his honor.
Hundreds of family, friends and colleagues joined together in Memorial Hall on UNC’s campus Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to man who has been described as having an ever-present sense of humor and an unwavering love for those around him.
Feng Liu, 59, died on July 25, after being robbed and beaten on his daily walks near campus.
“When you have a senseless crime and a loss of life … it’s hard to understand and go forward,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said during the memorial. She urged the crowd to remember the man who was a loving husband, father, academic and mentor, as a way to go forward and continue on.
Pictures of Liu in his younger years were displayed. They showed a young man, happy and filled with life, that happiness would continue on throughout his life, and those remembering him Saturday wanted to continue to spread that happiness as a way to honor Liu’s life.
“Use that as an inspiration (to go on),” Folt said.
Since Liu’s death, UNC and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy have received outpourings of support. That support, also comes in the form of stories from those whom were touched by Liu’s contributions to science and society.
Bob Blouin, dean of the school of pharmacy, said people from across the country and in Liu’s home country of China have been reaching out and telling him about the impact Liu has had on their lives.
“The long-lasting value and impact of your work and effort will be ultimately measured by how many people you positively touch,” Blouin said of advice he was once given. “Feng Liu more than understood my mentor’s message, he lived it.”
A student at Liu’s alma mater, Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in China, reached out to Blouin over the past week. That letter, he said, made a great impact on him. He read that letter to those in attendance.
“To me, he is more like a spiritual mentor,” Blouin read. “A guide to the mystery and beauty of science, a symbol of the Chinese dream. … We were impressed by his breakthroughs in science, but also his sense of humor.”
“This letter in many respects epitomizes what Dr. Liu ment to many of us,” Blouin said.
At the memorial, Liu’s son-in-law William Norfleet addressed the crowd. During his speech Norfleet referred to Liu as “Baba” the Chinese word for father.
“Baba was the most joyful and hilarious person I’ve ever known,” Norfleet said. “I don’t know if he ever tried to be funny, it just came naturally to him.”
He spoke about Liu’s love for his grand-dog, Diego, and how he’d greet the dog before he’d hug his daughter. It was this memory that drew the most laughs from the crowd and exemplified Liu’s gift for humor.
“I’ve never seen someone derive so much joy from a dog,” he said.
When Norfleet first met Liu, he was intimidated, as any future son-in-law would be, but that soon melted away.
“He immediately welcomed me into his family, as though I’d always been his son,” Norfleet said.
He remembered how Liu could find the most joy in the simplest of things, like his daily walks and his garden.
Liu’s doctorial adviser at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied before being recruited to UNC, spoke about how Liu was known to play pranks in the lab whenever he could.
“I could tell early on Feng would not only be a great scientist, but also an excellent teacher,” Dexi Liu said of his first doctoral student. “His memory will be honored with the success of his students.”
Leaf Huang, professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, not only worked with him at UNC, but also during their time at the University of Pittsburgh. Liu and Huang had worked up a strong friendship, and as Huang was recruited to UNC, he negotiated a spot for Liu to join him.
The past week for Huang has been hard.
“I have so many things to do, but I simply cannot concentrate,” he said. “We couldn’t function without him, already last week we’ve already suffered a great deal.”
Huang has been asked how such a horrific thing could happen to such a wonderful person.
“I have no answer,” he said.
UNC has set up a fund to help support graduate students at the school of pharmacy in his name.
Part of Liu’s ashes were spread in the mountains in Asheville. The rest of his ashes are being brought to his hometown in China. He is survived by his wife who is a research analyst at Duke University and his daughter, who is a physician in Asheville.