April 3, 2006
to the Editor
Dr. Robert Apkarian, founder and director of Emory’s Integrated Microscopy and Microanalytical Facility, housed in the Department of Chemistry, was killed in a motorcycle accident while returning home from work on Feb. 28.
First and foremost, Rob was a master electron microscopist recognized worldwide for developing methods now considered essential to the field (such as chromium coating and cryo-scanning electron microscopy). He had more than 100 publications, was an invited speaker at dozens of conferences, served on National Institutes of Health panels, and was awarded the Recognition of Service Award by the Microscopy Society of America.
Recently, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia, and after his death, condolences were received from all over the world, including Armenia, Denmark, England, France, Holland, Italy and Venezuela. The world of microscopy has lost one of its leading lights at the age of only 52, when some of his
best work was just beginning to take hold.
But a passion for microscopy in the life of Robert Apkarian does not tell the whole story. He was an avid motorcyclist, once traveling more than 15,000 miles on a trip through United States and Canada, camping along the way. One frequently saw him on his motorcycle, with his beloved wife Juliette Apkarian (professor of Russian studies at Emory) seated behind him. His exuberance for life was a delight to all who knew him. He was enthusiastic about any project he set out to accomplish, whether it was merely enjoying a good cigar, climbing a mountain, reciting poetry, planting fig trees or having dinner out with his and Juliette’s many friends.
Rob was always conscious of his Armenian roots, and he traveled to that country on several occasions. I joined him on one such trip just after the breakup of the Soviet Union. These were hard times for Armenia with only two hours of electricity a day. Since there were practically no funds for scientific research (certainly none for heavy instrumentation), Rob donated to the Armenian scientific establishment an electron microscope, which has been used productively up to today. Rob is regarded as one of the great patrons of Armenia.
I will finish by telling a story about Rob that illustrates, as best as I know how, his great capacity for friendship. Once, he and I were in separate cars at a shopping center, both about to go home. On a stupid impulse, I picked up a hitch-hiker who, once in my car, began demanding money and that I take him to some distant place. I was at a traffic light when, to my amazement, who should appear at my window but Rob, asking me if I was all right. He had followed me, two miles out of his way, to ensure my safety. Once the hitchhiker saw Rob in his black leather jacket peering into the window, the guy quickly departed.
The point is: Rob was a good friend, not only to me but to a lot of people. And for this, he will always be fondly remembered.
Charles Howard Candler Professor of Organic Chemistry
Dear Oxford College
Dean Steve Bowen:
Last week during Spring Break, I had the privilege to meet and work with a wonderful group of your students. My husband and I were down on the Mississippi coast helping our son and his wife restore their house after Hurricane Katrina had blown off a good bit of the roof and flooded the entire house. This was one of many trips we had made down there since the storm. We were exhausted from the sheer physical burden of trying to do so much with very limited resources, both physical and fiscal.
Through the “I Care” volunteer program organized on the coast, we were privileged to have an amazing group of your students help us work on the house. They were led by Crystal McLaughlin, your director of student development, and the students included Francheskra Starks, Daniel Aziz, Rei Wang, Melody Rhine, Sachelle Ford, Valerie Longo, Catherine Martin, Mardeea Clark, Samatha Chen, Amanda
McCollough and Keith Allen.
These students should make you, the faculty of Oxford College and all of Emory University, very proud. They were everything one would hope to see in the youth of America: generous, happy, gentle, hardworking and about as nice as anyone could be.
The students started out by doing the most odious task we had, one we simply had not had the time nor the courage to do: They helped us clean out a basement shed still filled with Katrina mud. They hauled bikes, tools, lawn equipment and general junk out of the shed, shoveled tons of mud and then power-washed both the inside and many of the tools. They scraped, primed and painted rooms. They cleaned porches, hauled furniture and did hundreds of other tasks for us. They tackled each job with gusto and, in a nearly indescribable way, helped our family get its life back on track and filled us all with hope.
It is with deepest thanks that I write this letter to you. I thank you, Crystal, and your entire college and university for providing us with a group of such wonderful people to help us in a time of true crisis. Because of Oxford College and its wonderful students, my son and his family now have hope of returning to a normal life in their own home. We thank you and your wonderful students from the bottom of our hearts.
Director, The Institute for Advanced Education in GeoSpatial Sciences
Associate Professor, Computer and Information Science
University of Mississippi