Eulogy for Rein Ahas, Tartu, 26 February 2018
We were not supposed to meet today and certainly not like this. Next week, on Monday March 5th, we had planned our get-together. In your shared office with Kristi, where we talk about teaching, projects, joint publications, and above all, about family, good food, skiing, holidays and the dreadful Estonian weather…
But faith decided differently. Exactly one week ago, at 8:30 in the morning, I received the terrible news from Tiit Tammaru of what had happened the day before. Incomprehensible, lost-for-words, speechless, surreal, and extremely saddened… I lost a friend… The string of messages on Facebook, the condolences from family, friends, colleagues, students, are all unanimous: what a beautiful, cheerful, energetic person has left us, and way too early… My thoughts are with all of them, but especially with Birgit, and Roosi, Gunnar and Joosep. All are completely heartbroken and bereaved, and only our soft words of compassion and sympathies may bring small comfort and consolation.
Rein was a brilliant professor, and a great communicator. A committed and creative scholar pushing forward the frontier of science. An important scientist and researcher not just for Tartu or Estonia but for all the world (as Matt Zook, puts it). Rein’s academic legacy is indeed great. He published numerous first-class papers, on a wide range of topics, making him an ‘all round geographer’, from climate change, human activity spaces, social ethnicity, and in particular on mobile positioning and tracking in geography and planning (his trademark, his contribution to science). He published with lots of different people (from home and abroad), participated in many conferences, expert panels, and was a multiple visiting professor… many of these people and contacts are here today paying their last respects.
I first met Rein some ten years ago at the Mobile Tartu conference. A conference, unique in its concept and format, and in a typical (I would say) “Rein Ahas approach”: not too big, small groups, cozy, focus on interaction and discussion, with a lot of attention for the young people, hands-on, and close to nature, being outdoors (that traditionally ended with a smoke sauna, and some beer). There was an immediate understanding between the both of us. Not only sharing the same academic interests, but also, respecting one another, helping one another, caring for one another.
But more important, Rein was, above all, a very generous and warm person, a family man, a man with friends all over the world, a man who loved (but also dared) nature… Rein passed away too early, and very unexpected, partly in pursuit of his dreams. I (but no doubt all of you) share lots of very fine memories. When my own mother passed away, some 4 years ago, someone wrote to me: “Although we ultimately lose everything we own, what really matters is never lost”. And for this we need to be thankful. Rein, you will always be in our hearts and minds…
Oh, and by the way, Rein, next week, I will be teaching here again. In the room next to your office. But things will never be the same again… I do hope that someday, somewhere, we will again prune apple trees together, and have a coffee. Rest in peace.
Ghent University, Belgium