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Pregnant Harvard graduate among those killed in terrorist attacks in Kenya

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  September 23, 2013 01:02 PM

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A pregnant Harvard University graduate and her partner were among the dozens killed during the terrorist attack at an upscale shopping mall in the capital city of Kenya.

Elif Yavuz, a 33-year-old Netherlands native who earned a doctor of science degree from Harvard’s School of Public Health earlier this year and was expecting to give birth to her first child next month, died during the attacks in Nairobi over the weekend, the school's dean Julio Frenk said in an email to faculty, staff and students.

"As an HSPH doctoral student [in the Department of Global Health and Population], Elif completed her dissertation research on malaria in eastern Africa," Frenk wrote. "[She] had lived and worked abroad for many years, both in Africa and in Asia. She was currently working with the Applied Analytics Team at the Clinton Health Access Initiative [a global organization based in Boston] and preparing her thesis for publication."

"As one of her colleagues here at HSPH said: 'Elif brought laughter and love wherever she went. She lightened the lives of her HSPH colleagues and of the children she lived with in Uganda during her thesis work,'" Frenk's email said.

"Elif committed her career and her life to helping those in need," Frenk added. "Her compassion was an inspiration to everyone she touched at HSPH and the broader global community in which she lived and worked. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her."

Yavuz was with her partner and Australia native Ross Langdon, who was also killed during the attack, according to Frenk and numerous media reports and online tributes from friends and colleagues.

Jessica Cohen, an assistant professor in the Global Health and Population department at Harvard, was Yavuz’ thesis advisor and friend.

“She was one of the brightest students we’ve ever had,” Cohen said by phone Monday. “She was incredibly warm and funny and she really did great work.”

Yavuz had studied at Harvard for the past five years, though she spent a lot of time working on research and projects abroad, Cohen said. Cohen said she hopes to publish their near-complete research on malaria treatment and prevention in eastern Africa.

“I think she would want the fruit of her work to come out,” Cohen said.

Cohen said Yavuz and Langdon had traveled to Nairobi because the city is home to an esteemed maternity hospital, where Yavuz planned to give birth to their first child.

“She was excited to be a mom,” she said.

“She felt safe, as many of us do, in that part of Nairobi,” added Cohen, who has visited the city and the mall where the attacks happened. “It’s a common place to visit for people who are working on development projects or for NGOs or nonprofits.”

Yavuz and Langdon had traveled the globe together to work on humanitarian causes.

Peter Adams, a longtime friend of Langdon’s who lives in Tasmania, wrote on his blog that Yavuz was two weeks away from giving birth to her and Langdon's child.

“Both had dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful world. Both had so much to offer,” Adams wrote. “Besides a personal loss for myself, this is a major global loss.”

“When they visited me at Windgrove a year and a half ago, Elif had just completed a PhD at Harvard; last month she was personally visited by Bill Clinton in her role with the [Bill] Clinton Health Access Initiative based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania,” he wrote.

Documents uploaded to the Harvard public health school's website said Yavuz' doctoral thesis was titled: “Effective Malaria Control in Uganda: Examining Aspects of Treatment and Prevention in a New Policy Context.”

“Ross was about to start on a $35 million museum centered around the earliest fossil record of humanoids walking: two adults and one child,” Adams wrote. “He designed – pro bono — an aids hospital in Kenya,” Adams continued. “Being in his early 30s he had already given a TED talk. In Uganda he designed and supervised a unique eco-village employing only local labor.”

Langdon was a co-director of the architecture firm Regional Associates.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss our friend and colleague Ross Langdon and his partner Elif Yavuz,” the firm wrote in a statement on its website. “Profoundly talented and full of life, Ross enriched the lives of all those around him. Ross's leadership on projects throughout East-Africa was inspirational, and he will be will be very, very sorely missed by us all. Our deepest condolences and thoughts are with Ross and Elif’s families at this very difficult time.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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