May 8, 2011

Friends Say Brian Lo ’11, Victim of Cook Street Fire, Loved to Smile

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Friends of Brian Lo ’11 say they will most miss the radiating warmth of his gargantuan grin, but as they talk late Saturday night it quickly becomes clear that “B-lo” — who died in a fire on Cook Street Friday — can still bring smiles to their faces with remarkable ease.

“One semester, B-lo and I had [a class] in the Hotel School and he was just screwing up royally — so was I, that’s why we were friends,” Chris Marshall ’11, who had been close friends with Lo since freshman year, says with a laugh. “I was waiting outside [the professor’s] office, and B-lo comes out smiling, all giddy. I said, ‘B-lo, what the hell did you do?”

Marshall pauses, trying to build suspense.

“B-lo said, ‘I told her she’s a wonderful person, that she’s the best teacher I’ve ever had and that she’s beautiful,’” Marshall says. “And he passed the course!”

For hours at a gathering in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity Saturday evening, Lo’s friends spoke tirelessly of his extraordinary friendliness, his carefree disregard for what he did not find important and, of course, his smile.

Lo died Friday in a fire on 107 Cook Street that was likely started by unattended cooking, according to a City of Ithaca press release. The building’s other inhabitants escaped safely.

“What [Lo] meant to me was an indomitable, infallible, positive spirit. It doesn’t matter how down you’re feeling or how down you are; he’d say it’s okay, you’ll be alright,” said Tom Hudson ’11, a member of DKE, Lo’s fraternity. “Especially around a place like Cornell that’s super stressful, he brought so many people up.”

Chazman Childers ’12, president of DKE, added that Lo “was the guy who was always happy, and his happiness was infectious. He made everyone around him in a much better mood, and he wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself if that would make others happy.”

“B-lo was a hyperbole of positivism. You’d be thinking about him and you’d find yourself smiling,” Alex Lieberman ’12 said. “That’s the number one thing people will remember: his smile, and how he cheerful he was all the time.”

Students recalled Lo’s ever-expanding lexicon, unique idioms only understandable to his friends.

“[Lo] had these catchphrases. He’d say, ‘Cornell guys are easy on the eyes, easier on the heart’ or ‘Do you believe in fairy tales?’ to someone he’d never met,” Childers said.

Amar Modi ’11, Lo’s roommate for two years, said Lo “started this very strange way of talking that everyone in the house has picked up.”

“Instead of ‘that’s very cool,’ [Lo said,] ‘that’s such coolness,’” Modi said. “He loved the word ‘such’ and the way it sounded … At first it made no sense, and then 10 minutes later we’re all saying it.”

“He said ‘such such’ to me once, and I actually knew what he meant,” Lieberman said.

Childers and Lo served as practice players for Cornell’s women’s basketball team.

“[Lo] would always get in trouble for not remembering the plays and doing his own thing, but no matter what, he had a big smile on his face,” said Allie Munson ’12, a member of the team, who added that Lo’s ever-affable buoyancy often gave the team badly needed relief.

For all his idiosyncrasies, or perhaps because of them, Lo was something of a campus celebrity, his friends said.

“There wasn’t a particular pocket of people who could have escaped him … ‘We’re going to be friends,’ he said, ‘I’m going to show you,’” Marshall said.

Andrew Li ’12 agreed, noting that Lo would often sit in Libe Cafe to talk to people.

“He prided himself on being a social butterfly,” Li said.

In Lo’s conscious disregard for more trivial concerns, his friends said they saw a deeper appreciation for the gifts of life.

“The younger guys in the house would make fun of [Lo], and I said, ‘B-lo, how are you going to let them do that?” Lieberman said. “B-lo said, ‘Well at least they’re talking about me.’”

Li said he once asked Lo, “Do you realize how much everyone makes fun of you?”

“‘There’s more to life than being angry,’” Lo responded.

“[Lo] had an underlying understanding of what was important,” Danielle Martinez ’11 said. “He knew that time was better spent with people. He knew that the people in his life were what was important.”

Childers said that hundreds of people from across campus visited the DKE fraternity Saturday evening to celebrate Lo’s life.

Several of Lo’s friends said it was difficult to see so many students partying on Friday — Slope Day — just hours after the fatal fire.

“It was difficult because [on Slope Day] we were all in the backyard and these people were partying around us — such a wrong feeling to hear that,” King said.

Alex Noel ’12, a friend of Lo, added that he “wanted to scream” at those partying on the street, but knew it would not help.

As word spread Friday that someone in Lo’s building had gone missing, his friends tried to reach him.

“Of course, Brian has the voicemail of him answering the phone: ‘Hello, this is Brian,’” Marshall said. “For an instant, I said, ‘oh, thank God.”

“He was my very first friend here at school, and we’re down to the very last wire, and I can’t talk to him and congratulate him on my way out,” Marshall said.

Jennie Drygulski ’12 was also left with questions without answers.

“He was such a beautiful, amazing person, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that every day we’re going to wake up hoping it was just a dream, a nightmare, and it really hurts it’s not going to end,” she said.

Jaser Faruq ’12 added that, in the wake of Lo’s death, he would adopt his friend’s habit and try to smile more.

“Any issues I have with people I’m going to resolve them as soon as I can — there’s no reason to have negativity toward anyone. When I think back, he wouldn’t; [it’s] the lesson of his life,” Faruq said. “We need to aspire to be more like him. If we all went to the gym as much as B-lo, we’d have a much safer house; If we all cared as much as him, we’d all be much better friends; If we all smiled as much as he did, the world would be a much happier place.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein