Alejandro Duque remembered for persistence as a researcher and athlete at U of T

Graduate student died at 25 in sport accident

Alejandro Duque remembered for persistence as a researcher and athlete at U of T

Alejandro Duque, a master’s student in the University of Toronto’s Department of Medical Biophysics, died in a skimboarding accident at Lake Ontario on September 9. Duque, 25, is survived by parents Liliana Pinzon and Delio Duque.

During his undergraduate and graduate studies at U of T, Duque had been heavily involved in cancer research, as well as the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team.

He is remembered by researchers who had worked with him as energetic and hardworking, and by Varsity Blues athletes who had played alongside him as someone who always had their backs.

In an online statement, a lab representative who worked with Duque wrote to his parents, “The recent loss of your son Alejandro who left us all far too soon has left the Rottapel Lab paralyzed with grief.”

“In the short time he spent with our lab, he made such an impact, an impact that was larger than life. He will be sorely missed. We offer our sincere condolences and deepest sympathy on your loss.”

Before beginning graduate studies, Duque carried out cancer research in the laboratory of Dr. Donald Branch in U of T’s Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology. His direct supervisor was Dr. Anton Neschadim, CEO of ImmunoBiochem, a biotechnology company that sponsored Duque’s project in Branch’s lab.

In a joint statement, Branch and Neschadim described Duque as “an ambitious, fun and energetic young man that was friends with everyone in the lab and on the entire research floor.”

Branch and Neschadim also said that Duque was as “highly motivated and autonomous” as a research student, “bringing with him significant experience as a laboratory technician.”

Duque’s research focused on investigating the mechanism of action and pharmacology of biological products developed by ImmunoBiochem to evaluate their potential for use as part of new cancer treatments in oncological “disease areas where there is a significant unmet need.”

Duque wanted to leverage his experience to “generate an impact in oncology.” According to Branch and Neschadim, Duque had long-term plans of becoming a translational cancer researcher, aiming to bridge the gap between fundamental research and applied research.

Duque also did his undergraduate degree at U of T, completing a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in 2016.

During his undergrad, he was extensively involved with U of T athletics in the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse team as a student. Following graduation, he worked as an assistant coach for the team.

Joe Nizich, the head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, recalled Duque’s contribution to the team from when he first started.

“When Al joined our team in 2011 coming out of Birchmount C. I., he had some difficulties adjusting to the university game,” Nizich wrote to The Varsity. “But he persevered and worked diligently to improve, to the point that Al earned the right to be one of our Captains his last two seasons. He would pump up a teammate if that player needed a boost of confidence or was just feeling down.”

“He was always the focal point of chatter in the team room,” continued Nizich. “As a coach, Al took it upon himself to run our off-season strength and conditioning program, encouraging players to get better. He was always available to help a player improve.”

“To me, he was the epitome of a Varsity Blues athlete.”

Gabe Lisus-Lean, Defensive Coordinator of the men’s lacrosse team, wrote that “Al will always be remembered as much more than a player and a coach by the UofT lacrosse program; he will be remembered as a brother.”

“His teammates who shared the field with him had his back unconditionally well beyond their playing days and the players he coached knew that they could lean on him for anything,” he continued. “Though his life was cut tragically short, he truly lived with an unbridled passion for everything he did. His memory and influence will forever live on in all that were lucky enough to know him.”

Editor’s Note (October 1, 3:19 pm): This article has been updated to correct Nizich’s name.

Anand Baiju remembered for incredible selflessness, work ethic

Civil engineering student worked two part-time jobs, always made time for family and friends

Anand Baiju remembered for incredible selflessness, work ethic

Anand Baiju, a second-year Civil Engineering student at the University of Toronto, drowned at U of T’s land surveying camp in Minden, Ontario on September 4. He was 18 years old.

Baiju is remembered by those who knew him for his unwavering dedication to his family.

In the first year of his studies, Baiju balanced a full-time course load with part-time jobs as a security guard and a fast-food worker. He worked these jobs to fund his education, since his family was “not that financially sound to support his institution,” said Manoj Gopinath, Baiju’s uncle. Baiju also sent money back to his parents.

Kaifkhan Kalyani, a close friend of Baiju since fifth grade, said that Baiju “had the whole family on his shoulders.”

Baiju often said to his parents, “‘Don’t worry, I will take care of the family once I graduate from Engineering,’” recalled Gopinath. “He always told his dad, ‘You won’t have to go to work. I will take care of the family.’ He was a very responsible kid… He had a great love for his family.”

Baiju also cared greatly for his little sister, who recently turned 12 years old. Gopinath recalled how Baiju would regularly buy gifts for her with his earnings.

“The last one I remember was that he bought a doll for her… he thinks of her; he buys something in a very loving and caring [way],” said Gopinath.

To plan out his time between studying, working, and spending time with his family, Baiju met several times with Jennifer Fabro, the First-year Advisor for Civil Engineering.

“We talked a lot about balance,” said Fabro, “and we chatted about motivation — I know that family was really important to him, and he was really keen to be the first engineer in his family. That was really important to him.”

Despite his busy schedule, Fabro recalled that Baiju had “a positive attitude” and that “his smile could light up a room.”

“He was just a really lovely person,” said Fabro. “I know a lot of people were touched by him, so it’s a really sad situation.”

But “there was so much more to him than just the academic side,” said Kalyani. “He’d just help everybody… He was really a cool guy. He was very down-to-earth, you could really talk to him about anything.”

“You know how some people just try to be alone and get their marks, and not try to help other people?” continued Kalyani. “He wasn’t like that. He made sure everybody tried to get their stuff done.”

“He influenced me to work harder and get into the top universities. And he did that stuff for everyone… ask anybody in our school. He would always be willing to lend a hand and share what he knows in terms of chemistry, physics, calculus, or math. He did that for everybody, not even just me — he was helping people he didn’t even know.”

Kalyani said that Baiju influenced a lot of people at their high school to take academics seriously and work on their grades.

Just two days prior to his passing, Baiju shared his plans for his future with his friend. “He wanted to get a civil engineering degree, and then he wanted to get his MBA from Rotman,” explained Kalyani. “He wanted to build up a construction company.”

“He was very passionate about his future, he had very hard career goals set in place. He knew exactly what he wanted to do,” continued Kalyani. “Unfortunately, he didn’t get to pursue his dreams.”

U of T remembers Emma Leckey

Woodsworth student was involved in advocacy, social justice movements on campus

U of T remembers Emma Leckey

Woodsworth College student Emma Leckey, the victim of a hit-and-run on the UTSG campus on March 15, has passed away.

Leckey was a student in U of T’s Ethics, Society, and Law program. Her passing was mourned in an email from Professor John Duncan, the director of the program. “All of us in the major are unfathomably saddened by the passing of Emma, who was an excellent student and cherished member of our institutional family,” wrote Duncan. “Words fail me.”

“Emma will always be a valued member of our student community. She will be fondly remembered for her advocacy projects, dedication to furthering social justice around campus, and her work with the Canadian Cancer Society,” wrote the U of T Ethics, Society, and Law Students’ Association.

“Emma worked tirelessly and was always there for us if we ever needed a shoulder to lean on,” said Steven Worboys, her close friend. “Emma didn’t need to have her name attached to anything for it to matter to her. She truly believed in making the world a better place for many communities, in particular those that had their voices rarely heard. We have lost a beacon of light and many years of positive change that lay ahead.”

Through the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), Leckey was also involved with Relay for Life U of T, which is a fundraising event for the CCS. As a co-chair of the event for two years, she helped raise $40,000. According to Leckey’s co-chair and close friend, Julian Lamanna, “Emma was one of the most loving, caring, giving, and kind people I have ever met. I will forever be grateful for her being a part of my life.”

Lamanna said that Leckey was a “talented, motivated, and incredible soul, gone too soon.”

Leckey was struck by a vehicle while crossing the intersection of Huron Street and College Street. According to police, the driver, who has since been charged, may have been intoxicated.

According to Woodsworth College Principal Joe Desloges, Leckey was taken to the hospital after being helped by an onlooker. There, doctors made extraordinary efforts to keep her alive despite severe injuries.

“Her parents now find themselves in a position to act on behalf of their daughter and have made the decision to allow Emma to pass,” reads Desloges’ statement, posted on Facebook on March 20 by the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA).

Both Lamanna and Worboys wanted to highlight the dangers of drunk driving, saying that her family wants to prevent something like this from ever happening again. “No matter what rationale you can come up with to validate this, someone’s life is not worth it.”

The WCSA Board of Directors wrote in a statement that it “would like to take this moment to honour our great friend and colleague Emma for her devotion to the Woodsworth community. Emma will forever be part of the wolf pack, and always remain in our hearts. Our thoughts are with her family and friends during this difficult time.”

According to Desloges, there will likely be a memorial service held at U of T to honour her memory, though the date has not yet been determined.

U of T’s Health & Wellness Centre has been made aware of the impact Leckey’s passing may have on students. Students may indicate to the front desk at Health & Wellness that they are from the “Woodsworth community” if they wish to seek additional support.

“Emma was the kind of person who inspired you to be a better person. To push as hard as possible to achieve your goals,” said Lamanna. “And to always smile, even during the toughest of times.”