Dr. Adrian Kimei Arakaki

Monday, September 7, 2009, a truly wonderful man, Dr. Adrian Kimei Arakaki was taken from his family and friends. Words are inadequate to express the profound feelings of shock, loss and sorrow that we all feel at Adrian’s far too premature death. Adrian was a deeply devoted husband to Susana and the father of three boys, Matias, Nicolas and Tomas, all of whom he loved very, very much. He took great joy in being a highly involved father and would often tell us about the boy’s achievements and how proud he was of them. He would recount the time they would spend together playing with K’Nex and circuits and their Saturday Night movie time. Despite many other pressing time commitments, he was always there for his family. One cannot fully imagine what was going through his mind in his final minutes of life, but I am sure that he was thinking of his children and his wife Suzy, all of whom he loved very much.

Adrian would talk often of Suzy and what a wonderful mother and supportive wife she was. Part of the way he showed that love was in the things he did around his house. Last year, Adrian took it upon him self to install hardwood flooring. He did so because it was something that Suzy wanted to make her life easier. On family vacations they loved camping and going on hikes. Adrian loved and cherished the time with his family and once remarked that if he ever won the lottery, he would retire from science and be a stay at home dad.

Adrian was a remarkably warm and friendly man, who was deeply sensitive. He truly loved people and had tremendous compassion and empathy. He had an incredibly infectious and welcoming smile. He was always willing to help others and he was incredibly loyal. He literally had friends all over the world. Indeed, in the past week, it was universally echoed what a “wonderful” person he was. Often after death, the virtue, sensitivity and ethics of a person gets magnified well beyond what they were in life. In Adrian’s case, exactly the opposite is true. He was a most special person who deeply touched the lives of all that he came in contact with. Our lives are much poorer now that he is no longer with us.

He also had a whimsical side. Just last week, after receiving one of those phishing emails from Nigeria about how he just won the lottery, he set out to scam the scammer, Benson. Adrian’s goal was to have Benson go to the money order office as many times as possible. Adrian assumed the identity of a bus driver in St. Louis. By a series of ruses including claiming that the St. Louis Mafia stole the money that was supposed to be transferred, Adrian got the scammer to go to the money order office at least three times. Over lunch he would regale us with the latest chapter in the Benson Chronicles.

Adrian had a lifelong passion for mathematics and science. He loved to read about the great mathematicians and solve mathematical puzzles. He was particularly excited that he had an Erdos number of 5. He would regale us with tales as to how he almost blew himself up with chemicals when he was a child. He loved to figure out how things worked. He was intellectually very curious and loved the pursuit of science and great ideas. 

Jeffrey Skolnick had the privilege of collaborating with Adrian for the past 10 years. He received his PhD in Biochemistry but decided that he wanted to do Bioinformatics and Computational Biology as his life’s work. While he had built and sold computers to supplement his income back in Argentina, he really did not know how to program them before arriving in St. Louis as a PEW postdoctoral fellow in 1999. But he rapidly acquired this skill and many others and did outstanding science.  Over the next decade, he was involved in the prediction of protein structure, protein-protein interactions, protein function, the origin of folds and the nature of protein structure space that has profound implications for evolution and most recently, he developed a very exciting approach to metabolomics that holds the promise of developing novel cancer treatments. As was typical of Adrian, he was extremely organized and meticulous and was involved in many group collaborations. He was an excellent and patient teacher and mentored a number of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. He always saw the promise and good in others and strived to bring out the very best in them. He was also a wizard with computer graphics and Excel spread sheets. He was very artistic and could rapidly whip up a beautiful picture that explained a difficult scientific idea.

Adrian had a very critical mind and loved engaging in scientific debates. Indeed, the quality of the science that was done in our group was significantly improved by his probing questions and very high standards. I will forever cherish the memories of all the hours we spent together arguing about a particular idea. He was a most valuable sounding board who will be sorely missed. In this life, there are many people that one comes in contact with, but there are few that have touched the hearts of so many in such positive and profound ways.

Adrian indeed was most special. Our only consolation on his passing is that he leaves 3 children, Mati, Tomi and Nico, who are his legacy and thus, the best part of his hopes and dreams remains with us. May their difficult journey be as painless as possible. As they grow older, they should know that their father is with them in spirit. May his dreams for their happiness and success in the days that follow be realized. For all of us, but especially his family, there is a large void left by Adrian’s passing. But following Adrian’s example and the way he lived his life, may they and we find the strength to go forward and aspire to do great things.

Over the past several days, many of you have expressed the wish to help out his family in their desperate time of need.  To assist them, we have set up a paypal account under arakaki.family.benefit.fund@gmail.com where donations can be made.   Please reach into your hearts and your pockets to help this struggling family.

Written By: Jeffrey Skolnick
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