As light poured in through Battell Chapel’s stained glass windows, one could almost hear the clickety-clack of Annie Le’s GRD ’13 five-inch heels as friends and teachers described her as a funny and intelligent girl with big dreams.
At a University memorial service Monday, Le, who went missing a little over a month ago, was remembered as a brilliant scientist who adored designer fashion and fried chicken.
“Her outside beauty was no match for her inner beauty,” Le’s friend Tara Bancroft GRD ’14 said. An enlarged photo of Le’s smiling face stood at the front of the room.
Outside the chapel, all gates to Old Campus were locked and a Yale ID was required to enter. Police officers stood outside the Chapel to make sure no cameras were allowed inside. Police officers in dress uniforms, their badges and detailing shining in gold, led Le’s family and close friends into the chapel. Among the guests, who filled most of the center rows of the bottom floor of the chapel, were Le’s mother, Vivian Van Le, and Le’s fiance, Jonathan Widawsky.
The service opened with the music of Johannes Brahms, played on piano by Robert Blocker, dean of the School of Music. Pharmacology student Michelle Mo GRD ’14 played a haunting violin piece by John Barry that faded out with a striking high note.
Le’s adviser, Anton Bennett, an associate professor of pharmacology, spoke of Le’s scientific prowess, explaining that a paper she co-wrote will be published posthumously. Bennett also shared what he called “Annieisms,” remarking that he traditionally introduces his students at their doctoral defense presentations by describing some of their “lab quirks.” Since he would never have the opportunity to do this for Le, he said, he decided to share Le’s quirks with the attendees.
Bennett described how Le refused to wear jeans on a particular Friday, despite having to perform a potentially messy experiment.
“Today is skirt Friday,” he recalled her saying. “I always wear skirts on a Friday.”
She bought an electric bagel cutter for their Thursday morning lab meetings, Bennett said, and cut all the bagels before the rest of their lab had arrived.
“It wasn’t good enough just to get an electric bagel cutter,” Bennett said. “But she had to cut all the bagels herself. That was an Annieism.”
Bancroft, Le’s friend, also remembered that Le used to skip out of talks with her friends to get pedicures and used smiley faces in presentations, while still maintaining respect.
But before Le’s friend and teacher shared their memories, Yale administrators reflected on Le’s life. University Chaplain Sharon Kugler welcomed guests to the service, and Reverend Robert Beloin, the Roman Catholic Chaplain from St. Thomas More Chapel, offered a prayer. University President Richard Levin then spoke about the closeness of the Yale community.
“When one thread is pulled, the afghan unravels,” Levin said of the Yale community, adding that Le was “a model student for the Yale of the 21st century.”
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler followed Levin, describing Le’s love of science and of the people she knew. During the service, Psalm 23 was read in Vietnamese by Dan Nguyen, whom Le considered her brother, and in English by Alexandra Teixeira GRD ’14.
Slipped inside the program was a flyer on translucent pink, flowered paper, printed with a picture of Le, an image of Winnie the Pooh flying a kite and quotes from “The Tao of Pooh” — fitting for a girl who Bancroft said he hopes is in a place filled with designer handbags, a Popeye’s restaurant on every corner and no more disease.
Following the service, there was a reception for friends and family at the Graduate Club on Elm Street.
On Sept. 13, the day Le was supposed to be married, her body was found behind a wall in the basement of 10 Amistad St., the Yale research facility where she conducted experiments. Raymond Clark III, an animal lab technician who worked at Yale, was arrested on Sept. 17 and charged with Le’s murder.