Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I need your help. I want to build something.

Some of you may recall the post I put up a short while back about the passing of my dear friend Tony. Well, as always happens when a loved one passes, I've been dwelling on it a lot. It's funny how the image of his hands with their surprisingly thin skin seems to hit me with more force than his face sometimes, or how I'll spend two hours unable to stop reliving a 10 minute conversation. I don't think I ever once drank rum with him, but he was known for his taste for it, and every once in a while, I take some time to just sit and slowly absorb a small glass, sip by melancholy sip, fancying myself closer to him somehow.

Tony was a marine biologist by training and spent a lot of his time volunteering at the Cal State Long Beach Science Learning Center and with their Mobile Science Museum, which went around to elementary and middle schools and showed off lots of little educational and fun demonstrations to get kids interested in science. Tony loved the sea, and his favorite portion of the display was the tanks that held the sea life. There was a loop playing at the funeral which included video of him showing sea stars to kids and playing to a crowd.

My wife still can't think about Tony without remembering the visit to his home when she opened a cooler looking for a drink and was attacked by the many tentacles of the octopi Tony was caring for in anticipation of bringing the Science Learning Center some new specimens. Even as a kid he loved the sea, and he volunteered at the Science Learning Center because he wanted to bring his passion to other youngsters. I have a very clear picture in my head of that exact image you see above, but with him as a boy, from when we were maybe 10 or 12 years old and we went to a local aquarium, that same amusement on his face as he reached into the touch tank. Here he is as a child, not too long after I first met him, I'm sure, with his beach-art of an anatomically correct shark (count the gills!).

Well, I recently got a very solid reminder that despite my feelings of loss, he isn't entirely gone from this world, and I decided I'd ask you all to help me keep another little piece of him with us. After his death, Tony's sister, Jane, and the director of the Science Learning Center, Jim McKibben, collaborated to set up the Anthony T. Liaw Memorial fund. I recently opened my email to see a notice from Tony's sister that the fund has until December 31, 2009 to hit the goal of $25,000. If we can meet this goal, that turns the fund into an endowment. That is, the funds would then be kept permanently and invested to provide income for continued support of the organization Tony spent so much time with. Currently, the fund is at around $17,000, which is certainly not too shabby. I'm writing this post in the hope that you all can help me push it over that line so it isn't just a one-time donation.

I also think it may be worthwhile to include a partial transcript of Jim McKibben's words at Tony's funeral, to give you someone else's perspective on why he was so special. After a brief introduction, Jim had the following to say.

He tutored many of his classmates. I would often walk into the Student Learning center to see Tony helping other students preparing for exams. From that point on, Tony became a regular part of the Science Learning Center. I would see him on an almost daily basis. Needless to say, through the years, Tony volunteered literally hundreds of hours of his time to make the program a success.

Because Tony had such a fondness for all animals, he took on the responsibility of helping to maintain the various animals in their enclosures. He took a great deal of delight in getting one of the snakes out for our presentations to our young visitors. He encouraged them to touch the snake, to overcome their fear of snakes. Tony was truly a natural when it came to helping people become comfortable around snakes and other animals. Tony mentioned to me on one occasion that he remembered when the mobile science museum had come to his school, and how it had made a lasting impression on him.

He was, without a doubt, the most reliable and dedicated volunteer the programs have ever seen. He was always punctual and I knew that I could count on him for his help whenever needed. Even after graduation, when Tony began working for California Department of Fish and Game, he told me to call him whenever we had an upcoming trip with the Mobile Science Museum, and if it was at all possible, he would be there. There were some special occasions when Tony was able to change his work schedule to help out with the Mobile Science Museum....Tony could always be seen at the touch tank, encouraging people to explore and touch the sea creatures that he found so fascinating. Tony was more than just a student volunteer, he became a close friend.

We talked about a whole range of topics as we rode in the mobile science museum to our visitation sites. ... Today, I can't help but walk by the Science Learning center and expect to see Tony sitting at a computer, looking up with his beaming smile and saying, "hi, Jim!" He will be forever missed, but he will be never forgotten.

The official announcement establishing the memorial fund included the above two photos and the following text.

The Anthony T. Liaw Memorial Fund has been established in his memory to support the Cal State University Long Beach Science Learning Center and Mobile Science Museum, a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about science and marine biology first-hand. The CSULB Foundation is a 501 C3 non-profit charity, and tax-deductible gifts may be made out to:

CSULB Foundation

c/o Jim McKibben, MS

Director, Science Learning Center/Mobile Science Museum

College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics

1250 Bellflower Blvd, FO5-104

Long Beach, CA 90840-4501 (562) 985-4841

The Science Learning Center/Mobile Science Museum program website is under development at:

Please help us establish this endowment, to let Tony's legacy continue to bring joy and education to thousands of kids in and around the Long Beach area, so that he may never be forgotten. Please help me do this last thing for my friend.