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An emotional goodbye to Prof Loganathan, Minal
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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April 22, 2007 15:22 IST

More than 600 mourners, including family, friends, several faculty, students, members of the Indian community in Blacksburg, and other well wishers, packed the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church on the afternoon of April 21, to bid final farewell to VA Tech engineering Professor G V Loganathan, 53, who was killed by a deranged lone gunman along with 31 others on April 16 in the worst massacre in US history.

Among those who attended the funeral ceremony were Virginia Tech University president Charles Steger and some students who survived the gunman's rampage in Loganathan's class that fateful Monday morning, including a student who walked down the church aisle on crutches to view his late professor's body and placed a single crimson rose petal on his chest, as did all of the other mourners.

Meanwhile, at the Donaldson Funeral Home in Odenton, Maryland, the same afternoon, more than 200 mourners, including about 65-70 students from Virginia Tech who had driven down for the funeral ceremony from Blacksburg, filed past the body of Minal Panchal, 26, who was also among those moved down by Seung-Hui Cho, 23, a South Korean national.

Cho, a permanent US resident, was a final year student majoring in English at Virginia Tech, who took his own life after shooting 32 faculty and students in cold blood.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi sent her heartfelt condolences in separate letters to Usha Logananth, wife of Professor Loganathan, and to Hansa Panchal, Minal's mother.

Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen read out the condolence message during Minal's funeral ceremony. Anil Gupta, minister, community affairs at the Indian embassy in Washington, DC, represented the government of India at Loganathan's funeral.

At both funeral ceremonies, there wasn't a single dry eye, but both Usha Loganathan and Hansa Panchal, while constantly wiping away tears, kept their composure and were supremely dignified while thanking mourners for their sympathies and presence.

Loganathan, who hails from a village in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, was a professor in the university's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department for the past 24 years and was considered one of the department's top 10 professors. 

He was a four-time recipient of the College of Engineering's Excellence in Teaching Award in addition to several other honors and accolades, including Outstanding Faculty Award and Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Civil Engineering Education.

Minal, from Mumbai, who completed her undergraduate degree from Rizvi College of Architecture in Mumbai (Class of 1998), was in her first year of Master's program in Building Sciences.

Loganathan was eulogized by fellow professors, graduate, students, and family members, including his daughter Uma, 21, a final year engineering student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and by his brother GV Sengotuvelavan, who had arrived from Chennai on April 19 with his parents and other immediate family members.

Uma in reminiscing fondly about her father, called him "my best friend and hero," and recalled how he would "always read my textbooks before I did and then engage me in all kinds of discussions and debates."

But she said that he was so versatile and even though she too was majoring in engineering, he would engage in several other topics too on subjects where her mother and her sister Abhirami,15, could also join in and recalled the interesting and friendly banter that would always permeate such joyous family discussions and debate. 

Gupta told India Abroad, "She (Uma) was so brave and so dignified and when she was recollecting these wonderful memories of her father and their family life together, several people simply broke down time and time again."

The national media nor cameras were allowed inside the church, but the Roanoke Times, the major local paper in the area, quoted Uma saying that she could tell her father 'the stupidest things, and he had listen as if it was the most important thing on the planet.'

It also reported how Newland Agbenowosi, a native of Ghana who had studied under Loganathan for six years, had packed his infant and two toddlers into the back of his van Saturday for the five-hour drive from Northern Virginia with his wife.

"I had to be here. It was the least I could do," he said.

Another student of the slain professor, Craig Moore, had rushed to the service after attending the funeral of a student Jarrett Lee Lane, who was in Loganathan's class in the Norris Building when he too was killed. Moore, who had just taken his professional exam -- an open-book test in Richmond, the day before -- spoke of how he used books borrowed from Loganathan to study for this exam.

Perhaps the eulogy that brought smiles to the faces -- and even some laughter in the pews of the church -- where the mourners sat dabbed at their eyes constantly, were the recollections by Sengotivelavan who spoke of Loganathan's love for James Bond movies as well as Tamil films, particularly those starring M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganeshan. 

"He also loved cricket and chess," Sengotivelavan said, adding that his brother was a close personal friend of former Indian cricket caption Sunil Gavaskar.

He spoke of how Loganathan, to whom teaching was 'a noble calling,' was also 'a role model' for him and the rest of the family as well as several cousins, nephews and nieces and that 'we all owe our lives to him, for he did his duty perfectly as the elder brother to  all of us.'

Sengotivelavan, a chartered accountant, said that each time his brother would visit India, which was every three or fours years, he would visit all of their relatives and spoke of how 'he was so kind-hearted and always took a special interest in one of our cousins who is physically challenged and helped him a lot.'

Several of Loganathan's colleagues, who all said he was a 'wonderful friend,' spoke of how humble, simple and unassuming he was and how devoted and dedicated he was to his work and the quintessential perfectionist who would not rest till he got it right. 

David Kibler, a fellow professor, according to the Times, praised Loganathan for taking on practical water resources research projects that many in the field would shy away from -- research that Kibler predicted would lead to improved forecasting of flash-flood warnings and better drought management.

Kibler said that the last conversation he had with Loganathan was a discussion about how to find funding for a needy, promising student, and that Loganathan had proposed using money from the faculty's travel budget to help keep this student in school.

Another colleague and a former student, Vinod Lohani, said he had been inundated with condolences messages from students of Loganathan from as far away as Australia and recalled his commitment and dedication to his students, saying, "We lost count of the number of times he had drive from his home in the middle of the night -- whenever he thought a question we had could best be answered in person."

Lohani remembered with gratitude how his former teacher who became one of his closes friends and colleagues who always demanded perfection from his students, had coached him though his doctoral dissertation, patiently listening to him practice his oral presentation and then urging him to repeatedly draft several new versions did he got it right and also making him practice the correct pronunciation of several key words.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Juneseok Lee -- the only one of Loganathan's five graduate assistants who was not killed by Cho's crazed rampage -- and recalled e-mails of Loganathan always beginning with, "Let me give you some brotherly advice�." particularly those usually sent out to him in the dead of night, 'which would force me to sit at my desk every night, and I had to respond right away."

Minal's funeral ceremony began with a nearly 40-minute puja with the reciting of several shlokas followed by the eulogies and viewing. One of the eulogies was delivered by a college friend of hers from Mumbai who spoke of how vivacious "cheerful and bubbly." 

The mourners were also provided with a program that contained several photographs of Minal, with family and friends, and contained a tribute that read: "Minu, thank you for everything -- the love, happiness and inspiration and much more that you brought into our lives."

It spoke about her 'passion for architecture, your ever adventurous spirit, your simplicity, and most of all, your intoxicating laughter.'

'You taught us to love, laugh, dream and look at the brighter side of everything. Thank you for touching our lives and always making us smile. Love you and miss you.'

After the viewing, Minal was cremated in the same funeral home while Loganathan's body was moved from the Presbyterian Church to the McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg, for cremation in the presence of family members only.

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