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Campus Rocked by Untimely Death of Dr. Sarah Sutrina

For Release Upon Receipt - Monday, January 28, 2019

The Campus community is still reeling at the untimely loss of retired senior lecturer, Dr. Sarah Sutrina. She joined The UWI Cave Hill as a Biochemistry lecturer in January 1992, and attained senior lectureship the following year. Dr. Sutrina also served as Biochemistry coordinator from 2003 to 2010.

Her colleagues and former students have taken to various outlets to express their shock and sadness at the passing, but also to share fond and frank memories of the lecturer who guided them through the complexities of biochemistry.

Dr. Suzanne Workman, Lecturer in Medical Microbiology, led colleagues and former students in a heartfelt tribute of Dr. Sutrina, aptly titled: Remembering Sarah – An Appreciation of Dr. Sarah Sutrina:

I will be perfectly honest and admit that I do not really know how to start this appreciation of Sarah, but I feel compelled to say something and to acknowledge who and what we have lost.

I am yet to find the adjectives that aptly describe how I have felt since 9:12 a.m. [on January 23, 2019] when I received the shocking and disturbing news that Dr. Sarah Sutrina had not only died, but died under the most undeserving and unsettling of circumstances. I was stunned, shocked, felt numb and empty for a long time (still do), sad with shades of anger and plenty denial as there is no way this could have happened. Who would want to harm Sarah?

That same sentiment has been expressed repeatedly by many former students who have reached out via Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to find out if what they heard about Dr. Sutrina was true.

Let me first establish that Sarah will certainly be missed. The Department has lost a most valuable member. And quite akin to the “less overt” organs of a human body (e.g. the pancreas whose important role cannot be disputed but may often be overlooked), her value will likely become much more apparent with her absence. When she retired recently, the Department lost a very learned, dedicated and caring teacher, but gained perhaps its most qualified PhD student. With her death, we lose a wealth of knowledge and experience; students have lost a much-appreciated mentor; but most importantly several have lost a friend.

Sarah taught about Biodiversity and definitely had a wider appreciation for the diversity of life as evidenced by: i) her unwavering, somewhat kid-like excitement on spotting rotifers in a sample of water; ii) her devotion to her pets (e.g. Shelly-Ann, the original turtle, and her cats); iii) her love of the sea (we are all familiar with her treks down the hill and across to Batts Rock, and the little pout she would give when the scheduling of a lab session prevented her from getting her daily dose); and iv) her approach to teaching, for she surely understood and accepted the diversity amongst students in terms of academic potential, and dedicated an abundance of time and energy to one-on-one unofficial “tutorials” in her lab with students who struggled to grasp certain concepts in Biochemistry.

Sarah’s willingness to take on “practically any student” for a research project is another manifestation of her appreciation of diversity. Her selection criteria seemed to be: i) has a desire or willingness to do the research (or at least a strong desire to get the 8 credits ii) belongs to the species Homo sapiens, preferably with the ability to set up a bacterial culture and monitor its growth over long periods; and iii) have the pre-requisite courses as you will need to register, but not necessarily with As or Bs. What I’m trying to say is that Sarah gave many of the more academically-challenged students an opportunity to do a project, perhaps even cognizant of the fact that the main driver for their application to do a project was to get an 8-credit boost that would help catapult them towards the requisite number of credits for graduation (and to many of them, towards freedom).

I was well aware, and have since been reminded of how much this was appreciated by students. I sincerely hope that Sarah knew and felt the abundance of love that her students had for her and knew that I appreciated her as well.

Her dedication to her research on the phosphotransferase system (PTS) was unparalleled.

In fact, it was perhaps the most frequently used acronym during student seminars. And even though her research fell within the confines of Microbiology, I must admit that the lotta acronyms and nuff plots of experimental data “flying at muh quick quick” within the short time allocated for a seminar used to ‘tie up my head.’ To be honest, I was never thrilled at the prospect of having to be a second examiner for her projects as it meant acronym and mutant name overload. I internally thanked those students who submitted brief reports, shuddered and rolled my eyes when a slab of many pages was received and was relieved when her research evolved into biofilm formation (still PTS, but PTS with application) which was more relatable for me. So as much as I was happy to see her lab thriving, I was less than excited as I knew it meant marking at least one project report down the road.

She supervised and generously assisted numerous undergraduate project students as they delved into the workings of the PTS system with a wide range of mutants, with characteristically

long hours in the lab (some pretty much set up a bed equivalent and all in there…and had “house guests” too!), numerous spec readings and plenty growth curves. In more recent years, she began to mentor Nikolai [Holder] and that opened the door for research in a different direction, as well as an academically fruitful collaboration, and what from my viewpoint looked to be a great friendship based on mutual interest in research and understanding of the challenges of doing research in our setting and determination to tackle them together.

Sarah led a simple life and embraced a minimalist lifestyle long before minimalism became a buzzword. She often walked into campus or parked far and walked over (and refused offers of a lift in too…well, at least refused mine!). She didn’t care for fancy clothing and fussiness and, well into an era of “pelting way tings after one use” she even recycled micropipette tips. She delighted in the beach and she loved to be in her lab. Sarah also loved food: I can picture her now perched on the bench with Marilaine and Angela with her “lunch bag” (a literal Purity or Wonder Bakeries bread bag) chomping on sandwiches and washing them down with a Coke.

Indisputably somewhat of an introvert, Sarah definitely selected her interactions with others. She was known for minimal eye contact and at times as much as physical turning of her body away from those she encountered in the corridors of the Department; low voice as she delivered Biochemistry lectures and more eye contact with the whiteboard than the class; occupation of the seat in the far corner of the Demo Room during seminars… definitely keeping a rather low profile and limiting interactions with others. And don’t think that just because you just had a good conversation with Sarah on the balcony outside BLEXT that minutes later when you met her downstairs in the corridor that you’re not going to get the same minimal contact.

That’s just how she was.

I recall my first encounters with Sarah - she was the one with the two long plaits, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, who walked into campus toting a box with Shelly-Ann. I was thrilled to see a lecturer adopting this “work uniform” as to my mind it opened the door for me to fall in line with my own casual attire. I dared not wear shorts (especially since my choice of shorts may have been quite different from hers and far less acceptable) but baby tee, jeans and flip flops became my standard.

But there was another side of Sarah which some were privileged to meet. And to be honest, all it took to be privy to that side was acceptance of who she was, initiation of a little conversation with warmth… and offering food helped too. Sarah had a great sense of humour and if you sat close enough to her during one of our lovely departmental or faculty board meetings or seminars you were also treated to a glimpse of her wit and sarcasm; remarks delivered with head slightly lowered and tilted towards you (like she was sharing a secret) capped with a semi-mischievous smirk as she knew that what she was saying was an appropriately and deservedly cutting remark. She could be hilarious.

Sarah also had a very healthy appetite. She was always supportive of seminars, listening intently to the presentations and was certainly equally dedicated to ensuring that the refreshments provided did not go to waste. When it came to refreshments provided after student presentations for my final year courses, I knew to always make a point of either inviting Sarah down or sending a plate of eats to her lab via one of the many Biochem project students who “took up residence” in her lab. They, in particular, were privileged to experience that side of Sarah that many didn’t get to view. They definitely love and appreciated their “Su-Su” … I’m not sure if they used to call her that to her face, as they also respected her, but several affectionately referred to her as such when talking to me.

Sarah’s lab was her haven. She was in her element there…. perhaps second only to her beloved

Batts Rock beach.

My wish for her is that she is resting peacefully.

Rather than mourn the loss of Sarah Sutrina, let’s fully appreciate and celebrate her life and learn from it.

R.I.P. Sarah

An additional selection of comments can be viewed below:

Jane Bryce, Professor Emerita, African Literature and Cinema, The University of the West Indies Cave Hill

I can't claim I knew Sarah Sutrina but our lives ran parallel for twenty-seven years and I'm immensely affected by her death. We arrived, both of us, in January 1992. I noticed her almost immediately as a fellow foreign female lecturer of the same age, and made overtures at first. I remember sitting down at the table she was sharing with colleagues at lunch in the [Senior Common Room] and introducing myself. From her startled look and discomfort I understood at once that my presence wasn't welcome. But we swam at the same beach, and day after day I would see her walking there as I drove off campus. This is silly, I thought, and stopped to offer her a lift. Again, I understood the offer was redundant - she had chosen to walk and was happy doing that. After a while I gave up saying hello when our paths crossed, even on the beach, but I didn't stop being aware of her. She was part of the landscape of my life. I think what I learnt from her unwillingness to engage was respect for difference. And we were different - even had she agreed to talk to me I doubt I could have said anything that would have interested her, having no scientific knowledge whatsoever and being interested in the arts myself. In a place where appearances matter, I was struck by how completely she failed to conform to a dress-code. At the long-service award ceremony where we were both honoured, I was dressed in formal attire and high heels. She had swapped her customary shorts for a pair of faded slacks, but the t-shirt and flip-flops were the same as every other day. I could only admire her obliviousness to convention and took it as a sign of a truly original mind. Like everyone else, I was deeply shocked by the manner of her death. She struck me as a true innocent, the least likely candidate for horror. The day after I heard the news, when I swam again at Batts Rock and she wasn't there, what I felt was grief.

Dr. Janak Sodha, Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in Physics & Electronics, Department of Computer Science, Mathematics & Physics

I knew Sarah through the lens of having lunch with her with colleagues on so many countless occasions. Conversations would invariably focus on problems with students and The UWI, but her attitude was simply to ignore it, and get on with the task ahead. It was that simple. A very dedicated academic staff member who should have been able to get home safely to feed her cats before returning back to her lab as usual.

Professor Leo Moseley, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Department of Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics

Extending sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Dr. Sarah Sutrina on behalf of my wife, Avrelle and me.

Christian Attong, The UWI Cave Hill Guild President

The Guild of Students takes this time to mourn the unfortunate loss of retired Senior Lecturer, Dr. Sarah Sutrina.

Dr. Sutrina was of great assistance to our student body, especially our students in the Faculty of Science and Technology. Her mentorship and guidance will be truly missed.

As we grieve such an unforeseen loss, we sympathise with Dr. Sutrina's family members and loved ones.

Dr. Sutrina, you will always be remembered as a UWI Cave Hill Stalwart.

Sonia Peter: These are the parts of life that are difficult to comprehend and harder to swallow. Dr Sutrina embraced her field with an internal passion that few witnessed. Her minimalist lifestyle was the embodiment of a low footprint philosophy and her connection with nature was unmistakable. I cannot wrap my thoughts around the fact that she was forced to let go of life in this manner. All I can do is wish her a peaceful rest.

Carla Daniel: She was one of the quietest most gentle people I have ever met. I still can't believe it's true. I was never any good at biochemistry but I will never forget Biodiversity II with her. I tried to find those rotifers for the extra mark and . . . she was just as excited as I was when I finally did! [I remember] sitting in her classes and making plans with a classmate that one of us would write the notes at the top of the board and other on the bottom so we could get them all before she erased them!

She also had the most amazing collection of sponges. One day I went to see her and offered to collect some for her as I often saw them on the beach. She declined, and said she like to collect them herself. I started to collect them anyway in case she changed her mind. They formed the beginning of my very own sponge collection which I still add to... an animal I would never have appreciated without her.

Recently we both attended a lecture on campus and we were enjoying the refreshments, and had a chat about how good they were (it was a real spread) and how they didn't serve refreshments at events like they used to!

She will be dearly missed both for her quiet presence and the amazing contribution she made to campus and many of our lives.

Dana Peters: It's very hard to come to terms with how and especially the why! I don't think any lecturer, in my opinion, could top: 1) how softly she spoke (especially first year in LR14...boy if you weren't at the frontof that class your goose was cooked!); 2) how quickly she would erase the board (mind you, she would have barely written on half of it)! and 3) Her love for rotifers!
Her intelligence was unparalleled and I'm glad to say I was fortunate to be in many of her classes and witness Dr. Sutrina in action!Dr. Sutrina will surely be missed!

Giselle Nana: Her passion for teaching made us want to learn. I was one of those students that used to bombard her lab and hang out. Her knowledge was vast, and she had a profound impact on all of us that year. As much as the pathways used to tangle our brains, we developed a love for Biochemistry, mostly in the last year when it was almost time to leave. I loved her personality to bits. She will be missed greatly!

Sabra Luke: I'm at a loss for words. RIP Dr. Sutrina! You made me love biochemistry!

Maxine Welsh: I remember starting to write my notes backwards because of her. She always erased the second half of the board first and you're already scrambling to write the extra that she's saying because her voice was so soft.

Tamara Robinson: I remember the speed at which Dr Sutrina would erase the board and that's why it took me by surprise when the night before my microbial biochemistry exam, after a semester of taking it easy, when I was then in a full panic, she was willing to help me with past paper questions. She exhibited great patience as I came to her all hours into that night with more questions. It was at that point I realized Dr Sutrina matched the interest that you showed in the topic, and was not there in any way to spoon feed us. We were undeserving students. RIP.

Kristina Bruce: Still can't believe this is real. I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn from her. She was passionate about seeing that her students understood and were comfortable. She was always willing to help. I remember one semester all of my exams for 4 courseswere back to back. 3 days of exams with 2 on one day. Some others had a similar timetable. When Sutrina heard this she asked that her exam be rescheduled. She wanted to be sure that her students had every opportunity to do well. I will never forget that. I will never forget the frog shirt either. Sutrina you will be missed. Rest in peace.

Joanne Simmons-Boyce: Dr. Sutrina was such a quiet, gentle person. She went about her business so calmly. I can remember her bringing injured animals to classes in small boxes… [usually] one that she had found on her way and that she just had to nurse back to health. Rest peacefully Dr. Sutrina.

Ashlee Payne: For someone who was so slow in Biochemistry, Dr. Sutrina patiently explained numerous times how Thermodynamics worked. I wouldn’t even have had patience with myself. But thank you, Dr. Sutrina! May your soul rest in eternal peace!

Amanda Harris-Logie: Such a sweet soul, I am still in disbelief like everyone else. Grateful to have crossed paths with her as I took her Biochemistry class. She was also kind enough to let me use her lab space during the summer of 2012 to complete some ongoing chemistry research I was doing at the time. Dr. Sutrina you will surely be missed. R.I.P

Asanchia Harewood Marshall: Quiet, soft spoken, introverted, brilliant and witty with often with a wry smile!

I always had the greatest respect for Dr. Sutrina and was grateful for the fact that even though her brilliant mind and Ivy League degree(s) would have allowed her to work anywhere, she chose to settle here in Barbados and make such an invaluable contribution to our country.

Expanding the minds of freshly minted young adults straight off the secondary school circuit is not an easy feat, as we were enjoying new found freedom and not inclined to mulling over abstract concepts. I figured the beaches must have drawn her and then pacified her when she had to mark all of those terrible drawings and labs weekly. . .

I remember sitting right at the front of the class so I could hear every quiet word she said and was grateful to her for simplifying the hieroglyphics of biochemistry and introducing me to the amazing world of protozoans. I loved those labs.Last year when social media discovered ‘the cute water bears,’ I glanced at the photo and thought, ‘yeah that’s a’s cute but I prefer rotifers.’ I know that appreciation comes directly from her and remember her excitement when she got a good sample teeming with protozoans for students to see.

Teachers influence not only by what they teach but by what they portray. Her simple approach to life taught us an appreciation for the little things and demonstrated to all of us that it was possible to be brilliant but humble, caring and patient. I am so very saddened by her loss and having great difficulty trying to come to terms with how this [demise] could happen to such a quiet and gentle person who by her very nature and way of interacting lacked the capacity and even more so the opportunity to directly offend.

I hope she knew (or now knows) how much she touched all of our lives. We are so very grateful. May she Rest in Peace.


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