I want to express to you and your family my deep sadness in the wake of Pia's death. I cannot possibly imagine all of what you and your family must be feeling, but I want to express my sympathies to you just the same.
It is with great regret that I am only now writing to you. I meant to write to you sooner after Pia's passing, but November and December have been very busy months for me. By now you have no doubt heard almost every variation on kind words about Pia, but I wanted to add a story which is my last and lasting memory of Pia. It says something about the kind of person she was to work with.
My recollection is that this story took shape on Saturday, October 21. I was in the School of Chemical Sciences computer laboratory trying to print out some letters of inquiry about postdoctoral positions. I needed to get these letters sent off because some of the professors to whom I was writing were scheduled for an upcoming visit to the University of Illinois and to our Illinois EPR Research Center. Their visit was to occur early in November. They were on the NIH panel which was site-visiting our EPR Research Center in response to our grant renewal application.
I noticed that Pia was working in her office that Saturday. For my part, I was having trouble with the laser printer. The printer was putting streaks on the letters I was trying to print. I was getting desperate. I didn't want to send shoddy-looking letters.
I walked over to Pia's office and asked her if she knew of any new toner cartridges for the printer in question. She reported that all they had was one spent cartridge and that the replacements were ordered but overdue in arriving. I tried the spent cartridge, got one good printout and that was it. Pia and I puzzled together about this situation. She was interested in my problem and wished that there was a way to fix it. I was ready to try anything.
We decided that one of the toner cartridges -- the one making black streaks on the printouts -- still had lots of toner in it. The other toner cartridge had produced an apparently streak-free printout, albeit blotchy due to the waning supply of toner. I asked her if we could try an experiment. I hasten to add that at some computer centers the staff would never let you "experiment" with their hardware. They are way too fussy for that. But Pia was different.
I proposed that we dismantle the two cartridges and reconstruct a cartridge which had some toner in it and didn't make black streaks on the page. Pia was willing to give it a try, though neither of us knew exactly what to do or if it would work. After removing several parts and studying the pieces, we took what appeared to be the toner tank from the streaking cartridge and attached it to the roller assembly of the streak-free cartridge. To our shock and amazement, the newly constructed cartridge actually worked! There we stood with black stuff all over our hands. I was able to print out my letters, and I was feeling very grateful to Pia for helping me to solve the toner cartridge problem.
In the weeks since, I have often reflected on that toner cartridge incident. If Pia was at work on a Saturday, she must have had a lot of important work to get done. Yet her willingness to entertain a detour in her work (the cartridge fixing) seemed so typical. Pia purposed to be helpful and congenial toward me whenever I had a question or a problem with computer stuff. The staff at some other computer centers would have told me to go find another printer somewhere. And they would definitely not have condoned an experiment like we did that day, not to mention helping out!
I trust I haven't overstayed my welcome in telling you this story. It came out longer than I imagined it would. It is one small memory I hold on to these days since Pia is gone. But I also hold onto something else, and I want to encourage you in this respect. I had the privilege of attending the funeral mass at St. Patrick's Church. There you spoke most beautifully and eloquently of Pia, and did so with great strength, openness, and admirable presence of mind. That funeral mass made me aware of the Christian commitment which was Pia's. What was implicit in that service, and what Christians believe, is that those who die "in the Lord" are after death "with the Lord." Additionally, as Christians we who are alive have the sure promise of some day seeing and knowing those we love who died in the midst of a life committed to the Lord. That is a great comfort to me and I trust a comfort to you, too. It gives hope for the future, hope that our present separation from Pia is temporary.
I grieve over your loss, but I also pray that God would in his mercy comfort you and your family in the days ahead as you adjust to your new circumstances. May God bless you and bring you much happiness and joy in this new year.
Dwight A. Schwartz
University of Illinois Department of Chemistry