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Northern Calif. (and National) – Memorial Service for Annie Le 9/25/09

Saturday, September 25, Harry Chang ’84, Kristina Yee ’89 and I joined Graduate School Dean Jon Butler and graduate school alumni association vice president Rahul Prasad at the memorial service for Annie Le Grad ’13 at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in El Dorado Hills, CA. As AAAYA board members from the Bay Area who were available, we were asked by Kameka Dempsey of the AYA to help represent Yale. It was a very touching ceremony, conducted in English and Vietnamese, and Annie’s large extended family participated to a great extent. The poise and maturity of her young cousins, siblings and family, and their words, were quite moving. Later, Annie’s guardian uncle Bob Nguyen told us that Annie’s loss had been devastating, but when the family received so many expressions of sympathy from around the world, and saw the outpouring of support from the Yale community, it helped them get through this terrible time.

Annie was a real shining light in her community, both in the Sierra foothills town of Placerville where she grew up, and among all she met at the U.of Rochester and Yale. As Harry noted, “It was very inspiring to hear some of the other speakers, who knew Annie personally, tell their stories. Annie seemed to be a little dynamo, who touched many people so positively.” We all felt like crying when Annie’s mother read a poem in Vietnamese, read in translated form by Annie’s brother Christopher, that included, “I sang lullabies by your side this week, like I did when you were a baby, wishing you a peaceful sleep.”

Please read further for more on the memorial and a letter from AAAYA to Annie’s family.

The program at the memorial included the following obituary:   Annie Marie Le   July 3, 1985 – September 8, 2009 Annie Marie Le, born in San Jose, California on July 3, 1985, died tragically on September 8, 2009, at the young age of 24. She was raised by loving guardian aunt and uncle and spent most of her childhood growing up in Placerville, California. Graduating in 2003 from Union Mine High School, Annie was top of her class earning her the title of class valedictorian. Her love for learning and desire for adventure took her thousands of miles away to New York where she studied bioscience at the University of Rochester. There she met someone very special, Jonathan Widawsky. They shared the same interests, hopes and dreams. He was her best friend; her first love; and her fiancé.

Annie’s education continued at Yale University as a graduate pharmacology student. She was in her third year and would have earned her doctorate in 2013. Annie was loved by everyone who knew her and special to all those who came in contact with her. She was a kind-hearted human being, who was devoted to her family and friends, always sacrificing her time to help others. Her laughter was infectious and her goodness was ingenuous. Annie was everything to everyone. She was a considerate daughter, a thoughtful sister, a generous niece, a spirited cousin, a loving granddaughter, and a gracious friend. We will always remember her beautiful smile, her fun-loving spirit, and the joy that she brought to us all.

Annie Marie Le is survived by her fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky, her grandmother, Mrs. Thang Thi Vu, her father and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hoang Le, her mother, Mrs. Vivian Van Le, her brother, Christopher Thanh Tri Le, her half-siblings, Martin Le and Emmie Le, her guardian aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs.Robert Linh Nguyen and their three children, Dan Thuy Nguyen, Ryan Tien Hy Nguyen, and Sean Khiem Nguyen, several of her aunts, uncles and cousins. Annie Marie Le will be profoundly missed.

At the reception, Dean Butler gave heart-felt remarks about Annie’s contributions to Yale and her vast academic and research accomplishments and Rahul also expressed sympathy from the graduate school alumni. Friends and relatives contributed many warm and touching stories. The slide show presentation prepared by friends and family not only showed photos of Annie growing up, it included shots from New Haven of the search for Annie and the candlelight vigil and outpouring of grief. Harry told the reception attendees of the concerns and expressions from our listerv and read the following on behalf of our AAAYA board that he wrote after reading all the comments on this discussion group.

Dear Le Family:

On behalf of the Asian American Yale alumni community, we want to express our deepest sorrow and sympathy for your loss.  While most of us did not know Annie personally, there is, nevertheless, a connectedness, and her passing touched all of us deeply.

In many ways, Annie embodied the struggle, sacrifice, and dreams of so many Asian American immigrants.  Coming to America, working hard, getting into a school like Yale, making our parents proud – that was our dream too.  When we hear stories such as Annie’s – her success and her striving for excellence – we, too, feel pride.  By the same token, when we heard of Annie’s death, we all felt the heartache and the emptiness.  We see reflections of ourselves in Annie.  She was one of us.

In your time of sorrow, we hope you will find some solace and comfort in seeing the unity and solidarity of the community.  We are with you and we, too, honor and remember Annie’s life.

Our deepest sympathies on behalf of the Association of Asian American Yale Alumni,

Harry Chang, Grant Din, Kristina Yee, AAAYA board members

Finally, here are a few links among many. is a statement from the deans of the schools of medicine and graduate school (Dean Butler) which includes a lot about Annie’s life and career and this paragraph about a scholarship in Annie’s memory.   A University memorial service will be held on Monday, October 12 at 5:00 p.m. in Battell Chapel.

The University is establishing a scholarship in Annie’s memory. Donations may be directed to the Annie Le Scholarship Fund, Yale Office of Development, P.O. Box 2038, New Haven, CT 06521-2038. Donations may also be made in Annie’s memory to the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, 330 Seventh Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, N.Y., 10001, and online at

A column from an SF Chronicle columnist that talks about reaction from Annie’s town, “Sierra foothill town mourns its next ‘Einstein.'”

Thank you, and as speakers at the service noted, try to live each day to the fullest and show your love to those close to you.

Grant Din ’79

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