As colleagues, friends, and family filed into the faculty lounge of the Macdonald Stewart building on Macdonald campus last Thursday – all gathered to honour the life of Negar Borghei – the room swelled to capacity, with only standing room left. Ultimately, the approximately one-hundred attendees caused the ceremony to be moved to a bigger classroom, where it began at 10:10 am.
Anonymous messages from those who knew her best flickered across the screen, paying tribute to Borghei’s kind, smart, and dedicated character.
“Negar, I will always remember you for your bright smile, your optimism (even on early Monday mornings) and for the passion you had towards everything that you loved,” one statement read. “Not enough words can do your incredible self justice or describe our great loss.”
“She truly had a global, comprehensive, worldwide vision to improve life for people.” – Linda Wykes, director of the School of Human Nutrition
The late 29-year-old was pursuing a masters of human nutrition at McGill, when, on her way back to Canada from Iran, she and 175 others died in a tragic plane crash. Borghei had been studying at McGill in order to gain her credentials in Canada, after having attained a masters degree in sports physiology in Iran and working as a practicing dietician.
With a table set at the front of the room, showing a photo of Borghei and her late husband Alvand Sadeghi surrounded by candles and white flowers, members of the McGill community took turns memorializing Borghei’s life and recounting their memories of her.
Anja Geitmann, dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told attendees that she had spoken recently with Borghei’s brother. Recalling what he had told her, Geitmann stated, “she was more than a sister – she was his best friend.” Negar used to tutor him in math and physics, and her brother, in return, taught her about living and studying abroad.
“What seems unfathomable is that she didn’t get the opportunity to build on these burgeoning relationships, on this network that she was establishing for herself here in Canada,” Geitmann told attendees. “She didn’t get the chance to enjoy the fruits of her daunting first months at MacDonald campus […], to complete her degree, and to eventually become a proud and treasured member of the large McGill alumni community.”
Geitmann also explained the media presence at the event. “Negar’s brother tells me that it has helped the family [to cope] with their loss by seeing how Canada in general, and McGill in particular, share their grief.”
“As her teammates and friends, we were lucky enough to work closely with her and get to know her, albeit for a short period of time,” Hiba Yousif told those in attendance. “[Negar] impacted each of us, greatly, in all positive ways.”
“We hope that those who joined us here today tolerate this intrusion into our privacy, in the hope that seeing the footage helps Negar’s family to see that she, Negar, was one of the loved ones here, on campus,” she concluded. A condolence book was placed next to the photo of Borghei, for friends and colleagues to write in and share memories of her. While the book will remain at Macdonald campus for the next few days to gather more personal stories of Negar, it will soon be sent to her family.
McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier was also present at the memorial. “As we mourn the passing of Negar, let us take a moment to celebrate her life, albeit far too short,” she said. “Let’s hold those memories fondly. Never forget that she was a bright young woman, that she had many dreams and aspirations.”
Some of Borghei’s colleagues at the School of Nutrition then spoke. “Our hearts are broken, and no words can express our sadness for this terrible event,” one of Borghei’s peers stated.
“Negar did her bachelor in the same university in Iran, Tehran as me. […] As her close friends expressed to me so well, she was smart, very talented, and dedicated, who worked hard – like so many of us – to come to Canada […], to build her life, and to have a better future.”
Speaking on behalf of the Iranian-Canadian community, they stated, “my deepest condolence to Negar’s family, her parents, her brother, and to all other families and friends devastated in this period of tragedy. Their innocence will remain in history forever.” After they concluded, another colleague of Borghei’s in the School of Nutrition gave their condolences, but this time in Persian, for the family to hear.
“We hope that those who joined us here today tolerate this intrusion into our privacy, in the hope that seeing the footage helps Negar’s family to see that she, Negar, was one of the loved ones here, on campus.” – Anja Geitmann, dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
One more of Borghei’s colleagues then spoke on both the pain of losing a dear friend, and the hardships of immigrating to a new place. “It is painful for us who know how difficult it was for you to pass all the obstacles, to learn how to not miss home and loved ones, to learn how to plant your roots into the soil, and to develop your branches like a beautiful tree,” they stated of Negar.
“I’m sorry to see all that we invested over the years is gone in a blink of an eye, leaving your families behind, who may never taste true happiness ever again. This tragedy should have never occurred.”
Linda Wykes, director of the School of Human Nutrition, also had a few words to say of Borghei. “Her generosity opened doors, as people could see the person she was.”
“She wanted her credential as a dietician in Canada,” Wykes continued, “to bring together her scientific knowledge, her clinical skills, to provide personalized nutrition approaches in preventive healthcare worldwide. She truly had a global, comprehensive, worldwide vision to improve life for people.”
Borghei had been studying at McGill in order to gain her credentials in Canada, after having attained a masters degree in sports physiology in Iran and working as a practicing dietician.
Hiba Yousif, a member of the tight-knit group that Borghei was a part of, was one of the last to speak. “As her teammates and friends, we were lucky enough to work closely with her and get to know her, albeit for a short period of time,” Yousif told those in attendance. “[Negar] impacted each of us, greatly, in all positive ways.”
Calling Borghei “the sunshine of the team”, Yousif said she was “always smiling, optimistic, and ready to brighten our day.”
As the ceremony wrapped up, attendees walked back to the faculty lounge, where tea, coffee, and sweets were waiting for them. While friends of Borghei waited in line to write their memories of her down in the condolence book, a slideshow of pictures continued to play on the screen. Alongside a smiling photo of Borghei was an anonymous statement from one of her friends.
“Negar, wherever you are, you will be forever living in a piece of my heart,” it read. “Next time we meet, let’s have the unfinished tea party. Before that, rest in peace.”