Paying our respects: Avinash Raina (1979-2001)

Many of us at the Record see our involvement here as similar to being a part of a family. Every year we gather to write, argue, laugh and think critically, spending long hours together in and out of our production cycle. We share a deep sense of duty to this community and, more importantly, to one another, looking after each other well beyond the confines of our office in Baxter.

It was with utmost sadness that we at the Record lost a central member of our family on Monday, Nov. 19, when Avi Raina passed away after a long battle with cancer.

During his time at the Record, Avi did it all. He was opinions editor, editor at large and, finally, sports editor. He wrote for every section of the paper during his time here – a rare feat – and was always willing to do whatever it took to make the paper happen. He brought a voice of both compassion and reason, invigorating our editorial pages with his keen observations and desire to help others and work for a better community. But just as importantly, Avi brought an attitude of kindness and humor to the paper that we all enjoyed. Always there to welcome a new editor or lighten the mood when we most needed it, Avi deeply cared about those involved with this organization, just as the rest of us cared about him.

Losing Avi has shaken us all, and we will sorely miss him. We hope that this collection of Avi’s work and celebrations of his life will in some way reflect his time here Williams and how so many will remember him so fondly.

Ben Katz ’01

To me, Avi was more than a classmate, more than a co-worker here at the Record and even more than a suitemate. To me, Avi was a friend. It has now been six months since I have set foot in Williamstown, and although I may not remember all of the lessons that I learned in the classrooms, I know that I will never forget the good times that I shared there with my friends.

For three years, Avi worked tirelessly at the Record, engaging his fellow classmates with issues that he felt were important. He never shied away from discourse and was never afraid to have his voice be heard.Being a member of the editorial board of this paper is a great responsibility that often requires many sacrifices. Although Avi worked tirelessly for the paper, not once did I ever hear him complain about anyone or anything. Avi loved this paper, he loved this community and he worked as hard he could to make Williams the best place that it possibly could be. Avi?s words made us think, and the forum that he created in the Opinions section gave us all a place where we could respond.

On a more personal level, not only was Avi an active and admirable member of this community, he was also a fun person to be with. He played with emotion on the basketball and squash courts and always laughed with us while watching the Simpsons in our common room.

The most important lesson that Avi taught me is that one does not necessarily need to be loud in order to be heard. Avi was a good friend, and although I will miss him dearly, I know that his friendship will stay with me forever.

Nat Bessey ’00

Just as I am unable to think of Williams College without thinking of The Williams Record, I cannot think of the Record without thinking of Avi Raina. He was always a dedicated editor and an eager writer. I recall particularly his editorial writing, which ranged from provocative questioning of the role of athletics on campus to reflections on global politics to the humorous ?Ephs Get Ready for ACC Sports!? suggesting that with our level of athletic domination, Williams should move up to Div. I. Avi also frequently contributed to other sections and I remember a week when he famously volunteered to write an article for every section.

I haven?t seen Avi in person since I graduated in the spring of 2000. I remember him as a dedicated and engaged person, with a warm and unexpected sense of humor, and I miss him.

Stewart Johnson, professor of mathematics

Avi was a good student. He had to leave campus once before to fight the cancer. The second time he left was when his parents came to visit on Family Weekend or some sort of event in Spring 2001. His father is a physician, and in seeing Avi, had suspicions that the cancer was returning. It was very hard for Avi to leave campus the second time. He really wanted to finish out the semester. I and his other professors, and some deans, communicated and arranged for him to get incompletes in his classes which he could finish up over the summer. This made him feel better about having to leave.

I got an email in the summer indicating he was not doing well and asking for an extension on the incomplete. I was happy to oblige and presume his other profs were as well. Then I was pleasantly surprised to get an email in late summer saying he was doing better and wanted to get started on Differential Equations! I eagerly engaged him and was in frequent email contact up until October. He basically was teaching himself the Partial Differential Equations section of the course ? those who have had Math 210 will appreciate the feat. Sometimes he would tell me he was going into a treatment and wouldn?t be able to work on the stuff for a week. Then a week later he?d email and we?d start in again. He?d take his differential equation textbook with him to the hospital. That sounds really nerdy, but it also sounds like something I would do.

I was hoping that he would return to campus and I could get him to take some of my modeling courses that use differential equations. He had a really good mind for it because he wanted to know how things worked and fit together. Getting the right answer was not enough for him. He wanted to know WHY it worked a certain way and didn?t work in some other way.

I hadn?t heard from him in a while, so in mid-October I sent a short e-mail asking how he was doing. I never got a reply.

I don?t know what else to say, other than that I feel very warmly towards him, I admire his courage, and I?m sad and angry that he died. I really wanted him to come back.

Mark Robertson ’02

?Guns.?

That?s how I?ll always remember Avi Raina. Given the nickname after he debated for the repeal of the Second Amendment alongside Michael Dukakis, it stuck during the rest of his time at the Record. Whether at a party or on the basketball court showing off his ?guns? in his cut-off t-shirt, he was always Avi Guns to me.

One of my most vivid memory of ?Guns? was his delight in rapping to Dr. Dre?s ?Forgot About Dre.? Once a night, we?d pop on the song and Avi would get down to business, drawing quite a crowd in the middle of the office. For a guy who was usually pretty reserved, it was quite a scene. He cut through the lines, punctuating the one with his own addition: ?They act like they forgot about Guns!?

As his co-sports editor at the time, working with Avi was a breeze. He was a great teacher who stressed efficiency ? so much so that sports was regularly the first section done each Monday night. Each night when we finished, Guns and I would go around to the other sections and tauntingly ask, ?Which section did you hear was the best? I heard it was sports! Don?t forget about sports!?

I knew Avi could be a kind of quiet guy, but I didn?t know how radically his personality changed while at the Record until I met Avi?s brother Ashish last week. In town to get a sense of this place where Avi spent three of the best years of his life, Ashish was shocked to hear about the Avi we remembered. When I told about Avi Guns? rendition of Dr. Dre, Ashish incredulously asked ?Are you kidding, my brother rapped?? He was so happy to hear about this side of Avi that was able to come out here at Williams.

I?m so happy to have gotten a chance to know and work with the Avi that I knew. He made this place a lot of fun and was a quiet leader and mentor to us all. I?ll never forget about Guns.

Scott Moringiello ’01

The Digital Underground?s sole hit ?The Humpty Hump? is by all accounts a ridiculous song. Avi Raina knew this well. Yet Avi had all the words to the song memorized and would start rapping the lyrics at the drop of a hat. For a person who felt more at home with the written word than he did with the spoken word, Avi was a heck of a rapper.

What I remember and cherish most about Avi was his ability to be wonderfully silly. At Williams, amidst all the pressures of schoolwork, friendship and Record deadlines, I came to place a high premium on silliness. Williams students infamously take themselves too seriously ? in the classroom, in the dorms, on the playing field, at College Council meetings and, perhaps most especially on the pages of The Williams Record. We at the Record were all too aware of the seriousness of Williams and we did our best to keep ourselves sane in somewhat unusual ways.

As the editor of the opinion page of the Record, Avi took his position seriously; he saw himself as having an important job on campus (which is undoubtedly true) and performed his job with his own aplomb. But when it was 3 a.m. on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, Avi knew that what the other editors needed was not a diatribe on the latest College Council news or an argument against substance-free housing; what the office needed was a rousing chorus of ?C?mon, do the humpty hump. C?mon, and do the humpty hump? delivered by a normally reserved math and econ major from California. Avi would rap, we would laugh (I often fell on the ground laughing) and the issue would get finished in time for us to miss our Tuesday morning classes.

And in a semi-famous episode of the radio show Brock Read and I had, Avi showed that he not only had rap skills, but he could croon with the guys from Boyz II Men in an absolutely hysterical rendition of ?On Bended Knee.? Avi sang along to the song on air during our broadcast (and I fell down laughing then as well).

For good reason, people at Williams likely knew Avi from his outstanding work he did in the Opinions section of the Record. The words on those pages, though, never gave a glimpse of Avi?s silliness.

Of the many wonderful aspects of Avi?s personality ? the seriousness with which he took friendships, the determination he gave to his studies, the fairness with which he dealt with other people and opposing views, the dedication he gave to the Record, just to name a few ? his silliness is the part of him that I?ll miss most. I?ll miss it even more than his singing.

Ronit Stahl ’02

When I think of Avi, I can?t help but think of his constant lunchtime presence: whenever I came into the office, he was here, eating his hot dogs, reading a magazine or doing some homework. Other board members may or may not have been down here, but Avi was a guarantee on almost any day of the week.

He did all of the regular tasks editors do ? write, edit, layout ? but he also had one job to himself: ordering pizza. We always have pizza on Tuesdays nights for our writers? meeting, and the debate over Hot Tomatoes or Colonial was as regular as the meeting. Amidst all of our bantering, Avi would get up, go to the phone and order it ? often getting half from each place to satisfy everyone ? and making sure if it was late last week, it wouldn?t be late again.

And there was one more thing he spent a lot of his time in the office working on: his resume. Copies of his resume and various cover letters floated around everywhere, open on a computer, lying in the printer, sitting on the table. He tweaked his resume more than anyone I?ve ever met; constantly concerned about his corporate job prospects, he wrote new cover letters and changed little things for each particular company to which he applied.

These are all little things, just glimpses into the side of Avi I saw frequently. When I wrote an email to the board from abroad at the end of last year, he wrote back, saying he should be back sometime next year. And, really, that sums up what I?ll remember most ? that he was always around and always intended to be around.

Brock Read ’01

Mostly, I remember Avi singing the lyrics of songs written by black men. Some of my most vivid memories of college: Avi tossing off the most ribald lines from ?The Humpty Dance;? doing the rapid-fire parts of ?Forgot About Dre,? whose lyrics I could never completely figure out; singing Boyz II Men?s ?On Bended Knee? ? in its entirety ? on the radio show Scott and I had.

The last one was the best. We?d talked to Avi about dropping by and reading a few lyrics over a recording of the song; we didn?t even really expect him to show up. But he did, and not just to read: he sang the damn thing, all of it, and I don?t think he missed even a line.

It was a complete shock to see that kind of showmanship coming from Avi, who was usually so laconic. I still don?t know how much of it was guileless and how much of it was winking; I do know that Scott and I spent the last three minutes of the song doubled over on the floor.

Obviously, there?s a tremendous amount more to Avi, some of which I know, some of which I don?t: that he?d always show up to play 21 with Elliott and me; that, coming back to Williams after being treated, he handled what must have been a horrible burden with unerring dignity; that I swear to God I can?t remember him asking anything of anyone.

And there?s his time at the Record. Avi gave the paper so much of his time and energy in part, I think, because he just liked being involved in a Williams family ? which is what the Record was for a couple of years, more profoundly than it was anything else. What makes his passing seem so heartbreaking is wondering if we ever let him know just how much his being involved meant to us, as individuals and as members of the family.

Dick Quinn, Sports Information director

Avi was an invaluable member of the Sports Info staff for two years. He was the glue that held my student staff together for two years because he could and would do any job that needed to be done.

Whenever anyone needed a sub to cover an event due to an academic commitment, Avi would volunteer to take on the task. Avi would cover for anyone on any sport even if he was not familiar with the sports and he always did a solid job.

I frequently wondered how Avi could always be free when others could not. He told me once that he always made time for his studies and he liked to work hard so he used working in Sports Info as a release ? we all reaped the benefits of his commitment.

Avi was the unsung hero of Sports Info for two years, and I miss him a great deal.

Jo Proctor, College news director

Avi came to my attention early in his first year at Williams College. He had written an article about First Year Family Weekend, a spirited piece, which got across some of the hidden and competing feelings floating around that weekend ? happiness at being together again and happiness parents weren?t going to stay long, leaving students to get on with the business of building their own adult lives. Avi captured these conflicts honestly and I was impressed.

My office is called the News Office and we do much of the college?s media and public relations, writing about student, faculty and staff achievements and publicizing events. Every year a handful of students work for us writing press releases. I called Avi to ask if he?d like to work for us.

Avi did and he was willing to try his hand at writing about everything ? students, professors, events, biology, art history ? sooner or later. He worked one morning a week and set 8:30 a.m. as his starting time. A true journalist, Avi rarely showed up until 11 a.m., when he?d saunter in rubbing his sleepy eyes. He didn?t like to get up early. I nagged him for awhile; after all Avi had said he wanted to begin at 8:30 a.m. Finally, I got tired of telling him that he was driving me nuts, and we changed his schedule to reflect a time truer to Avi?s journalistic nature. Perhaps we both gave up on changing his ways the day I remarked that I?d never met a good newspaperman who liked early morning hours.

I knew Avi was conflicted about what he wanted to do in life. He thought his family wanted him to be a doctor. (He?d had a responsible research internship at the University of California at Davis investigating the presence of histone proteins on the Chlamydia genome, and, before he got sick, he?d applied for another research internship in the department of radiology at Brigham and Women?s Hospital in Boston.)

He may have been majoring in economics because he liked living well ? restaurants, nice clothes, a good car. (He?d worked a couple of summers as a software development intern at Intel and a marketing analysis intern for the U.S. Department of Education.)

Avi wanted to write.

We talked about whether or not he could be a doctor and write. Perhaps his model could have been William Carlos Williams, with his double commitment, to poetry and to medicine, ?persist[ing] with his medical education for the income it would bring, thus making possible the pursuit of his muse? (from The Doctor Stories).

I?m sorry I didn?t give him a copy of The Doctor Stories to read. On the other hand, Dr. Williams ?could never convince himself there was a living to be made in writing?. His Pulitzer Prize was posthumous.

Avi thought about being a journalist. At the Record, he held a number of editorial positions, including opinions editor in 1997-98, and wrote numerous op-eds. He was first a member of his high school?s and then Williams? debate teams, and proudest of the time he was former Governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis? debate partner on ?the right to bear arms? in a Williams Debate Union event.

With his debating and much of writing, ?his starting point was a sense of injustice?. Perhaps it was that which encouraged me to send him off on a trip home with a copy of Why I Write by George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984: ?From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six. I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.?

His brother told me that before Avi died ? when he was ill, in pain, and weak ? he spent a number of days writing an article reflecting on the September 11 tragedy. It was published in his local California newspaper as well as in the Record.

Like Orwell, Avi had ?a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts.? Because of his untimely death, Avi was not given time?sooner or later??to make political writing into an art? (Why I Write by George Orwell).

Tom Garrity, professor of mathematics

I will miss Avi. I was on leave last year and did not learn that Avi had cancer until this past August, when I found out that he was taking a medical leave of absence. The last time I seriously dealt with him, in the fall of 1999, was when he and I, with an assist from Michael Dukakis, debated on the whether or not there should be a constitutional need for the right to bear arms. My strongest memory is seeing him, young, tall and healthy, speaking forcefully in front of at least 500 people in a crowded Thompson Chapel. It was an exciting night. Now, this excitement will always be mixed with the knowledge of the tragedy of Avi?s early death.

Dan Williamson ’01

Avi Raina embodied many characteristics of a very typical kind of Williams student. These are students who are vocal in the academic arena, vocal in their extracurricular activities, but who then seem to physically disappear from the campus. Some students may remember Avi as the guy in their economics class or seeing his name attached to a variety of opinions pieces in the Record, but may have a more difficult time remembering Avi in a social setting. On one hand, Avi was rarely seen outside the classroom or the debating halls or the Record Office, precisely because he excelled in all of these areas, which required a tremendous amount of work. On the other hand, the largest reason for Avi?s apparent invisibility was his quiet, introverted nature. Avi, like many people who go unnoticed by the majority of the campus, was by nature a very reserved, private human being.

I do not want to suggest that Avi was simply the archetype of the introverted Williams student, because to do so would be to denigrate my memory of him. After living with Avi my sophomore year and half of my senior year, I was fortunate enough to move beyond the public sphere and to get to know Avi on a personal level. Avi was a very tolerant, easy-going person. Underneath the quiet veneer that took so much effort to get beyond, he was always observing, and that fact often became clear on the rare occasions when he did speak his mind. He had a sly sense of humor, made all the richer because he so rarely employed it. On one occasion, as I was lounging around, Avi became the butt of some joke, which he met with his usual stony face. Someone urged Avi to do more than just sit there, to respond in kind. So Avi launched into a tirade of impressions, mocking everyone present with such insight that we were all floored. I laughed till tears came to my eyes. And by the time my vision was no longer blurry, Avi had returned to his seat, looking as stoic as ever. He probably did not speak again for five minutes.

Most of my memories of Avi involve frivolous activities: conversations in the dining hall whose content I have long forgotten, practical jokes, just hanging out in our common room. After all, life is made up of mostly frivolous activities. Winter Study is an entire month of frivolous activities, and one of my favorite memories of Avi, indeed, one of my favorite memories at Williams was of two of my friends? final astronomy project during Winter Study, my sophomore year. It was an informational film-noir entitled ?Sundials: Dials of the Sun.? Avi was given the lead role, a hardboiled detective who spouts information about sundials, while getting involved in a plot with scenes that resemble Gilda, Laura, Pulp Fiction, Strangers on a Train, The Maltese Falcon and other noirs and neo-noirs. It was perfect casting, since he himself had many of the traits of the hard-boiled detective: he showed little emotion, had a tough outer shell, and he talked straight. It was also an exemplary mark of Avi?s generosity that he gave his time to help my friends with their project. The script required Avi to play straight man to all sorts of insanity, including seduction by me as the femme fatale. Avi?s most memorable line, indeed, one of only two or three lines I remember from the entire film, was, ?When I think of sundials, I think of sex.? He delivered that line in such a manner, that one had to see it to truly appreciate his brilliance. Avi was playing a role, but he was also just being himself.

The night I spent making that movie was one of the most enjoyable nights at Williams, and Avi was an integral part of that night. Avi is an integral part of so many of my memories of Williams, that I cannot completely sever a link in my mind between Avi and the College.

Williams is more than just a school; each student who graduates takes with him a different vision of what Williams really is. When I look back at my four years at Williams, I remember the classes and the campus, but to me, the essence of Williams is really embodied in the people that I met while I was there. And because Avi was such a significant presence for me personally, a friend I spent at least an hour or two with every day for over a year, Avi?s death is the death of a large part of my personal conception of Williams College.

Chrissy Fletcher ’02

I last heard from Avi in September. ?I?ve lost all my hair and feel a little tired, but it isn?t too bad,? he wrote. ?I?m even writing Record articles in the meantime. I should be back in February.? Time revealed a different future. Avi died exactly eight weeks later.

I met Avi when we were editors at the Record, both of us sophomores still in the class of ?01. He was helpful and soft-spoken, often lending a hand in the section I edited. He was always calm, a much-appreciated quality in a newspaper office.

I will never forget seeing a side of Avi that, until then, I had never known existed. It was the night the Debate Union hosted a much-hyped debate, with former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis headlining, drawing enough people to fill Thompson Chapel. Avi was a student debator. As the night approached I wondered how such a quiet person would handle a pressure-filled public debate.

I didn?t wonder long. The moment Avi spoke, the glaze clouding many an eye in the house immediately cleared. People snapped out of reveries and sat up straighter, spellbound. He was confident, articulate and persuasive. It was the genuine emotion in his voice that was the most compelling, though; real passion rarely slips by unnoticed. I was not the only one to leave awestruck by his talent.

The strength of Avi?s voice, both literally and figuratively, made it even more perverse that cancer was found in his throat the following year. Avi won the battle the first time, returning to Williams last spring in remission. At the end of April, doctors found cancer again, this time in his mouth.

I took for granted that he would survive the second bout. After all, it is only natural for a 22-year old to beat cancer and be rewarded with fully-restored life and energy. When I read the optimism in his September e-mail, it was even easier to cling to the desperate idea. I was taken by surprise when news of Avi?s death reached me.

I heard almost a week late, but that didn?t make it any easier. It?s strange how bad news creeps in to your thoughts slowly, crowding out others until you can think of nothing else. It took me several days to comprehend the magnitude of the injustice.

In the last week, I have thought much about Avi?s suffering?the physical pain and mental anguish he must have endured before his body just could not withstand the brutality of the cancer and treatment another day. It is impossible to understand why someone so young, who suffered so much, was not allowed to live.

The poet Edward Dyer once wrote, ?Where waters smoothest run, there deepest are the fords.? Avi was the kind I admire most – the ones who surprise you, catch you off guard, leaving you convinced that the most unassuming people can also be the most inspiring. Beneath a quiet exterior thrived a gifted speaker, a passionate person who influenced people with his words alone. I have never seen another shine as brilliantly as Avi did that night in Thompson Chapel. Dazzling moments like those are few and far between, and people like Avi are even rarer. I, like his family and friends, will always consider myself fortunate to have known him.

Dan Elsea ’01

I will always remember being down many a late, late night in our bunker-like offices in Baxter basement when it would be just Avi and I. While I?d be frantically trying to finish a paper before a looming deadline later that morning, or writing my Record article for the week, Avi would be religiously sending out résumés to prospective employers or diligently working on a math or economics problem sets. It?s still rather difficult to comprehend that someone so young, so fit and so involved in his work?whether it be his academics, the Record or his ambitious planning for what surely would have been a successful career?is no longer with us.

Avi was my first editor. I first met him as a nervous freshman at the Record?s annual open meeting, held every September in Griffin 3 for each incoming class. I wanted to be an op-ed columnist and he was the opinions editor. A couple of weeks into my relationship with the Record, I got an email from Avi one Saturday, which said something to the effect of: ?Dan, I think you?re going to have to come down here sometime Sunday. We need to talk.? The article that I submitted to him was, well, rather awful. After a couple provocative pieces, I thought I was ?in.? Avi, though, in his own very special, polite and compassionate way put me back in my place. Sitting down with me for a good couple of hours, we went through my article and he taught me the basics of op-ed writing. Paraphrasing, he?d give me wise snippets of advice like ?You always need to consider the other side, Dan?If you pose a question at the beginning of your article, it?s probably best that you address it later on…? and so on. In the coming weeks, I?d apply Avi?s points to my articles, gradually improving my writing style.

Thanks to Avi, I not only learned to write for the Record, but I decided to stay on board.

The Record is the best, most rewarding thing I?ve done at Williams and I have got Avi to thank for bringing me into the Record family, teaching me the essentials and making me feel like a valuable member of the Record.

Beyond the confines of the Record offices (which we soon hope to rename and dedicate in Avi?s memory), the enduring image of Avi that I will keep in my mind will be of him all decked out at the Spring 2000 Record banquet at Blantyre?slicked back hair, the gaze of a Prada model and that sexy leather jacket. Avi appreciated the way he looked and had a certain penchant for being?well?stylish. I?m not sure why, but over the last two weeks, that image of the stylish Avi has flashed through my mind, and every time it does, it brings a warm smile to my face.

Avi, we?ll miss you.

You can read Avi’s many Record articles online by using the advanced search.