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Prof cared for 'students as if they were his own children'

Story Highlights

• G.V. Loganathan was a civil and environmental engineer
• He cared for students as if they were his own children, his wife says
• She noted his sense of humility, saying he kept awards in a closet
• Loganathan was among those killed in Virginia Tech shooting
By Ashley Fantz
CNN
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BLACKSBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- He was the professor who loved debating an equation with his students for hours. A civil and environmental engineer regarded as brilliant, his humility defined him. He once told his wife, "There are people who are better than me," as he tucked his prestigious awards inside his closet.

While most students could find him in his office, working past midnight, unraveling the puzzles of how water travels around the globe, he understood that the mind needed rest. In those moments, he stole away to watch one of his favorite "Star Trek" movies.

The friends, students and family of G.V. Loganathan, 51, want the world to know he was more than just one among the 32 killed during a rampage at Virginia Tech. Right until the moment when Cho Seung-Hui burst through Loganathan's classroom door, the professor was spending extra time tutoring a struggling graduate student. (Students pay tribute to "quite possibly the best professor I ever had")

"He cared about his students as if they were his own children, fretting about their grades, making sure they understood the concepts," said Loganathan's wife, Usha, her voice breaking. "To the last minute, he loved teaching."

As the carnage at Virginia Tech played out on television on Monday, the couple's eldest daughter Uma, 21, watched the news.

"I told her what was happening as I knew it myself," Usha said.

But of the couple's 13-year-old daughter Abhi, "I didn't know how to tell her.

"How do you do such a thing? How can you explain this?"

Kaelie Altizer, a neighborhood friend, said Abhi "was really sad" when she found out about her father's death Monday.

Calming influence

One of Loganathan's former students, Ken Ying of North Carolina, heard the news of the shooting Monday while he was working on a project in Florida.

An accomplished engineer, Ying always kept his former professor in mind when he was out in the field tackling a challenging job.

He was a Ph.D. student in the early 1980s and Loganathan had just started his Virginia Tech career as an assistant professor when the two became close, spending hours going over engineering puzzles together.

"The thing that was amazing to me is that you could debate [and] argue with him all day and night and you [could] never get him angry, not at all," Ying said. "He just gave you a calm feeling."

In the world of academic engineering, proving another engineer wrong while not offending them or losing your cool when they identify your missteps is a rare talent.

Nicholas Young, an environmental engineering student, said Loganathan would exaggerate his thick Indian accent for a laugh. "Some of the subjects could be boring," the 22-year-old said. "And he was trying to get us to have fun."

Young replaced his Facebook picture with a picture of his professor. "I will miss him a lot. Everybody is going to miss him."

When Ying heard about Loganathan's death, he remembered what his friend usually said in the middle of a heated hydrology debate.

"He would say, 'Don't worry about the mistakes you make. It's all right. Things can be corrected,' " Ying said.

And in the mid-1980s, when his eldest daughter was born, Loganathan seemed to take his own advice.

"We -- myself and another student -- went up to him after his daughter was born and asked him what it was like to be a father," Ying recalled. "He just paused and didn't say anything. I think he was thinking of an answer."

From that day on, they noticed Loganathan stopped spending all his free time in his office.

"He was spending time with his wife and daughter," Ying said.

'He was brilliant'

Usha Loganathan met her husband for the first time during their wedding. The arranged marriage happened near his hometown in the southern Indian city of Chennai. He was quiet with her at first.

"But he was brilliant," she said. "I could tell right away."

She lived with his parents for a year in India after the wedding because she could not obtain a visa to join him in Virginia. Nothing, not even a new bride, would have stopped him from coming to the United States. He dreamed about becoming an engineer when he was a boy, she said. "All his friends went to college to be engineers, too."

The year of separation was the newlyweds' "dating period," Usha Loganathan said.

"He was very romantic, very nice."

"He used to write letters and call me every morning. He would just spend a lot of money on phone calls. That's how we tried to learn about each other."

She could tell he was "good" because he spoke so sincerely about his passion for engineering. And when she joined him in Blacksburg, she learned of his profound humility.

"He didn't want people to see his awards," she said. "He would put them in the closet. He would say they are just paper."

Over the past two days, she has not taken them out to look at the awards.

Not yet. She isn't ready. She has not had time.

Her in-laws are due to arrive in Virginia soon from India. And her husband's students have been calling and dropping by her home to say how much they adored him, how much they learned.

One student who wrote on a campus memorial wished he had expressed this thought to his professor much sooner.

"I regret not telling you that you were the best teacher I ever had," it read. "You were an inspiration."


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Engineering professor G.V. Loganathan loved teaching "to the last minute," his wife said.

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