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Pushpinder Singh

Family and friends of Pushpinder Singh ’98 gathered in MIT chapel yesterday for his memorial service, filling all the seats and crowding against the back and side walls. The service was informal and did not follow a schedule, as Singh would have liked, according to Media Lab director Frank Moss PhD ’77. Friends, mentors, and students came up to the microphone to share memories of the MIT post-doctoral associate, who will be remembered as brilliant and enthusiastic about learning, yet humble and kind. The mood swung as speakers shared funny anecdotes, and sometimes lost their composure as they described the loss of an individual who had been part of the MIT community for over a decade.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Professor Gerald J. Sussman ’68 described meeting Singh 13 years ago and seeing him in his classes over the years. Singh “showed up at my office” all the time until recently, he said. Sussman said that “Push’s work was a breath of fresh air,” and although “it’s been a rough time for all of us … Push would not want us to be miserable.”

Moss, who opened the service, said that although he had only arrived at Media Lab this year, people told him, “you’ve got to meet this guy Push Singh.” “Push embodied Media Lab,” and “we are intent on continuing his work,” he said.

Glorianna Davenport, a Media Lab principal research associate, described Singh’s gregarious nature, as he would sit in common area “waiting for some unsuspecting person” to come by with whom to have a conversation. “Push will never be sitting on that bench anymore,” Davenport said.

Bo Morgan G, who was mentored by Singh, said he first wondered, “is he crazy or is he brilliant?” He said he decided the answer was brilliant, to much laughter from the attendees. Morgan said he tried to avoid asking Singh for anything, because he knew Singh would try very hard to fulfill that wish. Morgan broke down when he remembered Singh once saying, “It would be a shame to lose you Bo.” He pledged to “inspire my students and children” as Push inspired us all.

Another friend, who met Singh as an undergraduate at MIT, said he became friends because Singh, a total stranger at the time, had called one night to discuss a philosophy paper. He eventually hung up on Singh because it was too strange, but this was the unusual beginning of a friendship that would last throughout graduate school.

At the end, another friend of Singh’s played a slide show with pictures of Singh as a child, grown-up wearing a graduation cap and gown, with his family, and smiling with his girlfriend Barbara Barry, accompanied by music and audio of Singh describing his research.

A family representative at the memorial service said there was “no answer to why and how” of what happened, and read excerpts from Singh’s writing as a 13-year-old who wanted to know the “workings of the world.”

Singh, 33, was found dead in his apartment as a result of an apparent suicide on Feb. 28. He is survived by his parents, Mahender and Kulwant Singh, two sisters, Vindi and Raminder, and his girlfriend Barbara Barry, according to a Tech Talk article. A Media Lab fellowship for undergraduates will be established in Singh’s memory, Moss said.