On Monday afternoon, the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering held a memorial service in honor of late staff member Mary Francis.
Francis, a budget analyst for the Viterbi School of Engineering, worked at the school for 13 years before she passed away on June 22, 2014.
The memorial service included Francis’s mother, as well as her colleagues and students that were touched by her kindness throughout her time at Viterbi.
Gloria Halfacre, who is part of the signal and image processing staff at Viterbi and was one of Francis’ closest colleagues at the electrical engineering department, said that the school decided to postpone the memorial until the fall so that students and faculty would be able to pay their respects.
Shrikanth S. Narayan, a Viterbi professor, delivered a few words of remembrance during the service.
“Mary was extremely caring — personally, it’s been a huge loss for me,” Narayan said.
He went on to describe how he would look forward to their conversations early in the day.
“I miss that every morning,” Narayan said.
After a conference Narayan’s students participated in Singapore this year, the team dedicated all their research papers to Francis.
Francis was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in early 2014. Several of the students that were close with Francis immediately formed a group to assist her. All Francis had to do was text the group, and one of the students would immediately come to help her.
One of the students in that group was Dogan Can, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science. Can recalled Francis’s attitude during her illness.
“She was physically different but her personality was the same,” Can said.
He recalled that when some of the 16 students in the group visited Francis at the hospital, she would cut visits short by pretending to be tired when the topic of her illness would come up. Can said that Francis did not want others to feel awkward.
“That was just the kind of person she was, completely selfless,” Can said.
Even though the cancer had already spread through her body by the time of the diagnosis, people around said she remained the upbeat, positive and helpful person she always was.
Matthew Black, who graduated with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2012, remembered Francis for her kindness and warmth.
“She was kind of like a mother figure to me,” he said. “The joke with engineers is that we try to avoid people at all times, but I kind of went out of my way to talk to her.”
The final goodbye to Francis came when all of the guests released red balloons into the sky in her memory.
“Releasing the balloons symbolizes the soul taking flight to heaven and letting go of grief,” Halfacre said.