After a long struggle with brain cancer, Aaron Pinsky ’06 died Feb. 13 with his close friends and family members by his side at his home in Carlisle, Mass.
To his friends, Pinsky was the unique sort of individual who could find humor and levity in the most absurd of situations. He was the type of person who, in the words of close friend Galen Glaze ’06, “transformed a potentially normal school full of awkward Williams kids into a playground of wondrous characters.” Pinsky, as everyone knew him, simply made people happy. And as a Junior Advisor (JA), Record sports editor, WCFM football and basketball play-by-play announcer, gifted French horn player and especially as a friend, Pinsky touched countless lives at the College and beyond.
“He was the brightest light in my life – and a bright light to countless friends,” said Ellie Schmidt ’08, Pinsky’s fiancée. “His smile made other people smile because it was beautiful and genuine. There was something beyond special about his spirit that came through his smile and humor that drew people to him and made them want to be around him more. I loved him, and will always love him, beyond what I could have ever imagined that meant.”
When he first got to the College, friends recall, Pinsky took a little while to adjust. “He was more than just a little goofy [at first], but over his four years at the College he grew a lot personally and intellectually,” Zack Ulman ’06 said. “He really invested and dedicated himself to the Williams community … but even more so he was committed to the friends he made at Williams. He had a lasting impact on all of us.”
Ulman, who was Pinsky’s first-year suitemate, recounted that the first time they met he “was wearing short khaki shorts and a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt, and he was standing there arguing with his mom and dad” about the length of an extension cord. Standing with his luggage in hand, Ulman was bewildered when his new suitemate forewent an introduction or offer of help to continue his argument, but he soon formed a close friendship with Pinsky and watched him flourish over the following years “He used to say things like ‘freshman year Pinsky would be pissed about that’ or ‘sophomore year Pinsky would be upset about that,’” Ulman said, “but he learned, over time and especially under Ellie’s influence, to not let the smaller, minor annoyances bother him.”
All who knew Pinsky recall his keen commentary on the world and his spot-on, hilarious impressions of its inhabitants. His chance to demonstrate his talent came in a 2001 appearance on the NPR radio show ‘From the Top’ with his high school wind quartet, when host Christopher O’Riley played an excerpt of Pinsky imitating a Boston accent on his own high school radio program, “Any Given Wednesday.” “Your deep respect for the letter ‘r’ – I thought that was wonderful,” O’Riley said.
“When I met Pinsky I quickly realized that he was uniquely attuned to the tiny absurdities of life,” Glaze said. “He was the greatest impressionist I’ve ever known, partially because his voice was so uncannily elastic, but especially because he was intensely observant of the idiosyncrasies, odd mannerisms and hilarious inflections that everyone else took for granted. His observations about people were biting because they were accurate, but they were never made in a spirit of meanness.”
Sayd Randle ’08 was one of Pinsky’s frosh during his time as a JA. “He really was a fantastic person, friend, mentor and JA in all of these amazing, ironic, quirky ways,” she said.
Randle’s sentiments were echoed by Pinsky’s co-JA, Sarah Connell ’06. “Our frosh were immediately drawn to him, and he had an uncanny ability to appeal to every frosh’s personality and find a way to make each one feel special,” Connell said. “He spread his infectious enthusiasm for intramural sports, the Record and his beloved Red Sox across the entry, and he infused every entry event with his gregarious energy and ear-to-ear grin.”
Randle recalled how Pinsky took her under his wing when she followed him onto the Record, serving as a font of advice who went “above and beyond the call of duty.” According to Erin Brown ’08, Pinsky was her “in-house JA” and mentor when she first joined the Record board. “His ability to make friends just about anywhere made him the perfect sports editor, as he was equally comfortable with Record staff as he was interviewing athletes or calling championship basketball games,” said Hayley Wynn ’06, another former editor.
Outside the entry and the Record office Pinsky was a math major with a passion for sports – Boston sports – nearly equal to that for this studies. “He took two tutorials with me and he was phenomenal,” said Ed Burger, professor of math. Burger recounted Pinsky’s rivalry with his tutorial partner, a Yankees fan, during the 2003 Championship Series with the Red Sox. Ulman, a Los Angeles Lakers fan, said, “We realized that there are some distances that friendships just can’t bridge, so we didn’t talk about certain sports things.”
Yet those distances were miniscule, and as he battled cancer Pinsky remained focused on those around him. “I learned a lot from him then, because he knew his fate but he felt like his job was to make sure everyone around him was OK,” said Andres Schabelman ’06, one of Pinsky’s entrymates and close friends. “I can’t imagine anyone else handling what was coming with such integrity and relative degree of positivity. It would have been easy to have a lot of anger and feelings of life just being unjust and there was a lot of that, but he definitely went out of his way to make sure we would be as OK as possible through his death.”
“He was afraid that he wouldn’t remain the joyous, witty, loving and genuine person he was – because brain tumors often take that from sufferers – but he was always ‘there,’” Schmidt said.
“I got to sit in on a conversation with him and his chaplain at the time, and just the way that the memorial service will play out, there are tiny details that he wanted and put there to lighten the mood,” Schableman said. “And that’s typical Pinsky: to lighten the mood and bring levity to just about everything.”
Pinsky’s memorial service will be Saturday March 6 at the First Parish Church, 20 Lexington Rd. in Concord, Mass., at 11 a.m. Condolences may be sent to his fiancée, Ellie Schmidt ’06, (10 Rogers St., #1221, Cambridge, MA 02142) and his parents, Lincoln and Peg Pinsky (105 Fifty Acre Way, Carlisle, MA 01742).