photo: Mark, Ping, Yabo and Yige, October 2014
In memoriam: Mark Pagani, my advisor and my friend
November 16th, 2016 (Guam Time). I was about to write an email to Mark. It’s been a few days since I last wrote to him. He was too weak to respond to emails, but one of his best friends, Eric, who also lives in New Haven said Mark read my previous emails and was pleased. So since I board the research vessel JOIDES Resolution as a shipboard scientist, I started to write to him by emailing or texting (when we had cell phone reception). Today I was going to write “when you are well again, don’t ever sign up as an organic geochemist to sail on the JR. The organic geochemist’s job is mostly sediment crushing and weighing, but we never get the exciting findings as the paleontologists do”. Then, I received an email from Mark’s student Hui, and James a couple minutes later, saying “Mark passed away this afternoon”.
I pretended that it was ok. I pretended that we knew it’s going to happen. I tried to stay calm and wrote to Eric asking if there’s anything I can do for Mark and his family. Very quickly he replied with two words “Be famous”. The moment I saw this I burst into tears. It’s him! It’s Mark! It must be him! His voice was in my head again: “you will be famous, Yige”. For many times, we joked about that I would become a famous guy in China, so when he visits the country, he would be welcomed by red carpets and referred to as “the old friend of the Chinese people” – the highest recognition that only the revolutionary leaders such as Castro were called. We were joking but we were also serious. I know him as an advisor wants to see every one of his students to be successful. I know myself as a student wants to make my advisor proud. I felt really bad since I realized I would never have the chance to pay him back.
Mark is known to be blunt, and abrasive in some cases. I told him he shouldn’t show up at the graduate student recruiting weekend because he often scares people away. I teased him by saying that after I interviewed at Yale, I thought he’s a horrible person and he should totally thank the other professors who made me want to stay. As I often say, it doesn’t matter where you come from, anyone who just starts to deal with Mark would have a “culture shock”. Yes, I believe he had his own culture that might come from another planet. But he could be very sweet, although he tried really hard not to show that. One day I dealt with some really really rude people and I was very upset. I closed the door of my office and barricaded myself for hours. He knocked open and asked me what was going on. Then, he invited me to come to his office, treated me with the best from his secret stash of liquor (not sure if any university codes were violated), and explained the neighborhood he grew up where “you leave a donut outside, people would take it”, and how I should deal with nasty people and big bullies. We spent the entire afternoon together, just drinking and chatting. Mark’s friend Pam said he is a “pussy cat”. Nobody believed her, but I tend to agree with that.
I met Mark Pagani in December 2008, San Francisco, CA. He was wearing glasses with a black frame, and a leather jacket. I saw Mark Pagani the very last time in April 2016, Cambridge, MA. He was wearing glasses with a black frame, and a leather jacket. It seems nothing has changed. I know that at this very moment, he must have the same appearance in the other world. He might be reading “New York Times” on his Macintosh, or painting in a studio, or building a shed – I’m not sure. But I feel lucky that I met him, had him as my advisor and my friend for the last eight years. 再见，老马。再见，我的朋友。