Remembering Aaron Hoover
Aaron Murdock Hoover died December 30, 2020, surrounded by an extraordinarily large amount of love. An avid everyday cyclist and fitness enthusiast, he was in the best shape of his life when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM stage IV) in April 2019 at age 41. Aaron survived this aggressive brain cancer for 20 months with grit and grace.
In his dream job as a professor of mechanical engineering at Olin College outside Boston, Aaron helped refine the critical thinking skills — and fashion senses — of a generation of young engineers. He loved his work, finding deep satisfaction in the process of education as much as the product. A sign in his lab bore these characteristic instructions to students:
“1. Be excellent to each other. 2. Take the reins. 3. Kick ass. 4. Deliver value. 5. Have fun.”
Aaron was a builder and a maker, from the phone circuit he rewired at age six to the bikes he built in college to his recent explorations in high-end woodworking. In his professional life, he sought to understand how the principles underlying biological systems can yield insights that improve engineered systems. His career began with bio-inspired robotic locomotion and evolved to engage the nature of learning itself. Aaron read widely, spoke several languages and maintained a critical focus on the human side of engineering and design, teaching Olin’s foundational Principles of Engineering course every year. He was particularly interested in the intersections of creativity, craft, and design. He is remembered by his colleagues for so many things, including his generosity, teamwork and peer mentorship.
Aaron’s friends called him “Hoov.” He had an eye for beauty, an irreverent wit, and a charming humility rare in someone so accomplished. He loved music, art and modern design. His excellent sense of humor was matched only by his utter seriousness about the things that mattered: his family, meaningful work, and the proper method, tools and materials to grind and brew coffee.
Aaron was raised in Kansas City and Lake Lotawana, Missouri. His mother remembers a physically active daredevil of a child, with multiple scars to show for it. His sister remembers a sometimes-willing adventure buddy with an epic giggle. He attended Operation Discovery, Switzer, Border Star, and Mason elementary schools, going on to get a scholarship to and graduate with honors from Pembroke Hill, followed by Stanford University and a PhD at UC Berkeley.
Aaron met his life partner and wife, Robin, in San Francisco in the year 2000, when he was briefly a cool guy who rode a motorcycle and played bass in a band. Together they finished their twenties, got their doctorates, traveled the world, made each other laugh, made a home, and in 2013 had a son. Aaron was a dedicated parent who made “Little R” a hot breakfast every morning and spread “sleeping dust” on him every night. Little R has inherited his father’s intelligence, charisma, and keen attention to detail. The family spent time during the summers of 2018 and 2019 at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, nurturing his love of craftsmanship and working with his hands.
When he was diagnosed with GBM, Aaron dove into learning everything he could about the disease and its treatment. He blogged his experiences at www.amhoov.org, and was an active participant in Brain Tumor Social Media (#btsm) on his Twitter account @amhoov. He made good friends there, and this remarkable community brought him great comfort as brain cancer took more from him.
He was growing in new directions informed by his diagnosis when he passed away peacefully on December 30, leaving a lanky Aaron-shaped hole in the lives of his wife Robin, his son Little R, his mother Kathy, his sister Melissa, a large extended Murdock family, and hundreds of friends, colleagues and current and former students.
A Boston-area “go-by” memorial is planned for Sunday, January 17, 2021 [NOTE THIS IS UPDATED FROM ORIGINAL DATE]; meet in the Star Market parking lot at 75 Spring Street, West Roxbury at 11:45am for a noon departure. Bicycles are enthusiastically encouraged, but all modes of transportation are welcome. In-person celebrations of life will be planned for summer 2021 in Kansas City and California after pandemic travel restrictions are eased. Aaron’s family requests that you share your memories, photos, and videos at www.amhoov.org. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Little R’s college fund https://go.fidelity.com/pvtcs, or to the Aaron Hoover Memorial Fund to benefit women of color engineers at Olin College http://www.olin.edu/give [Select Designation: “Aaron Hoover Memorial Fund”].
Please leave your memories below. Comments are moderated and will be posted after review.
A perfectionist with humility, devastating wit and infectious laugh. I don’t remember even a couple days between meeting Hoov and us being brothers. His pride and love of his amazing family, the way he would unabashedly describe how much he loved his job, and the way he stoically dealt with diagnosis and treatment—he was superhuman to me. And coffee…I still mess up the grind every morning and think “too fine, Hoov said a little coarser…ughh!” There’s so much to think, feel and say about my friend, my brother. Most of all, I love him and I miss him.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Aaron was an exceptionally nice and brilliant person, and a real inspiration for me (and I’m sure many others) to pursue technical work but be sure to maintain heart, soul, and humor while doing so.
I only recently connected to Aaron and his story. It was one I was very familiar with having lost my cousin Beverly to the same diagnosis.
I emailed Aaron asking if he was comfortable with me doing a Mishabaruch, a prayer for the unwell in Hebrew, requiring his mother’s name. Aaron wrote me back, saying how nice it was and provided me his beloved mother’s name.
MAY HIS MEMORY FOREVER BE A BLESSING!
♥️felt condolences Cyndy
I am so sorry to read of Aaron’s passing. We had never met, but Aaron and I had connected over his diagnosis. He will be missed, even his internet presence. Thank you so much for sharing him with us.
Sending all of my love, Cass
With his massive accomplishments Dr. Aaron M. Hoover will still always be Hoov to me. The couple summer breaks he came with my brother Robb to San Diego, he was an immediate extended family member. How quickly he was etched into and intertwined with our lives. A younger wiser brother who always stayed in touch. Poker nights, cycling treks, and alley cat races were things I would not have done if it were not for Hoov. Gut wrenching laughter within minutes every time we met. A friend to my brother, to me, my entire family. A genuine person and an inspiration.
Rest my friend we will forever love and miss you.
Love you Hoov, R, and R. Aaron was so funny and often darkly funny – some of his best jokes (taunts?) came when he got me in video games over and over. Frisbee golf at Stanford with a wheelbarrow full of refreshments. Bonded in music. The summer living together in SF when we met our eventual spouses who were roommates across the street. Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness, Hoov’s laugh and smile, his commitment to bringing real hydrated food like eggs and chorizo (heavy, man!). His ability to memorize every funny part of a movie script. Hoov’s love of family. His sense of code and morality and clear-eyed, scientific approach to his own diagnosis. Truly a unique person. A legacy of love, humor, and science. I’m grateful to have known you.
My time in Aaron’s lab at Olin left a lasting impression of his unique wisdom as an engineer, artist, and person. He was generous with his time and trust, fostering our talents, encouraging our creativity, and inviting us to his home. I am fortunate to have grown through his mentorship, and share my deepest condolences with his family and friends.
I taught Aaron the summer before his Junior year in high school at a gifted program. We’ve had a little touch the last few years, but not enough to know he was sick. This is so sad to hear. He was an extraordinary individual. He was bright in every sense of that word: smart, full of energy, joyful, generous, kind. The world is a little greyer without his light; we’re all sending love to his family, friends, and colleagues.
Frank, he often spoke highly of you and your influence on his path.
Aaron, you will continue to inspire so many. My adult daughter is fighting a malignant Brain Tumour here in Ireland. We exchanged many tweets re this topic.
I send my virtual hugs to Aaron’s family. My late partner was a medical dr. who was always interested in Aaron’s story. Bill passed in March 2020.
Hugs, Love & Prayers from me.
Brenda Bergin RGN (Retired)
What a beautiful post! Big hugs to the entire Hoover family.
Aaron was one of the first Murdock-Mahaney-Hoover members I met in the winter of 2007 when I was going through my own trying life circumstances – and he and Melissa instantly made me feel like part of the family, which is important when there’s dozens and dozens of Murdocks!
One of my favorite Aaron memories was at my wedding, when for some reason we were talking or joking about the song “turn down for what” earlier in the day. That night I requested that song in order to get Aaron, Dan, and my brother Kyle on the dance floor and it was so incredibly epic and amazing.
Truly one of the most incredible people ever.
That late-evening Turn Down for What dance sesh remains one of my favorite memories of all time. Aaron’s dancing – particularly wedding dancing – remains unparalleled in its vigor, commitment and just total combined limb length in motion. Pure joy.
I learned so much from Aaron over the years – as a student, a TA, a member of his SCOPE team, and eventually a member of what he referred to as “the so-called real world”. My first memory of him was his extreme skepticism at my team’s project idea (well-founded skepticism, I should note), immediately followed by going above and beyond to help us make the project successful (within slightly more reasonable bounds). He often went above and beyond for his students, but he always acted like it was totally normal that he was helping people cast urethane parts at 9pm in the unheated project building or sending his SCOPE team a custom playlist every Wednesday. Aaron was a consistent voice for doing the right thing – whether it was using the right tool for the job, doing the project documentation you wanted to avoid, or admitting failure in a design review. I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten as much time with him as I did. I miss him already.
Acting like it’s totally normal to go above and beyond, being a consistent voice for doing the right thing in all ways — I think of these qualities as Aaron’s essence. I am so grateful for how clearly and specifically you’ve captured him here.
With grace and style Aaron leaves us, but left us with so many teachings of kindness, strength and engineering, too. Aaron left a mark at Olin, a professor who will be missed without doubt. Peace to Robin, Little R and all his family and friends.
To Aaron’s family – I can’t begin to describe the enormous, positive impact that Aaron had on all of us at Olin, and it is impossible to imagine Olin being Olin without him. I always loved crossing paths with Aaron on campus, as he always had something positive, intelligent, and/or witty to share. I can see him walking his bike, and holding a cool coffee mug or some parts for some cool project – he was such a creative person, and it is extremely hard to imagine this world without his creativity and passion in it. I have so many memories of laughing with Aaron in committee meetings – he was such a hard worker and yet also so much fun. We all wanted to work with Aaron on any team because of his unique blend of work ethic, intelligence, kindness, thoughtfulness, wit, and humor. Through the last many months, I grew increasingly in awe of his strength and positive attitude. I believe that his impact on so many people will help make all of us a little more kind, a little more thoughtful, and a little more positive. All of us who were touched by Aaron owe it to him to remember all of his wonderful qualities. I’m so thankful that his family shared him with Olin for the last many years so that we could get to know him and love him. To Little R – your dad is the absolute best and loves you more than all of the stars in the sky!
So, so sorry for your loss. Aaron and I were graduate students together and enjoyed hanging out/exploring the area at robotics conferences. I will always remember Aaron about to throw a punch when an old MIT prof said something completely inappropriate to me at a conference. I’ll also remember scootering around Nice in 2008. We started our faculty careers around the same time and his enthusiasm for teaching at Olin was infectious. I wish I had kept in better touch, but I am a better person having known Aaron.
It’s twenty years ago that Hoov let me crash on his couch for a summer; I’d just graduated college and had nowhere to live. We’d been playing music together for the last year; in The Stanleys, his nom de Stanley was “Grumpy,” and he really did have the most delightful grump act around things like conserving electricity and sorting the recycling. Of course when it came to anything that mattered, he was reflexively generous and open, always inventive and enthusiastic about the world. Those years were so much better for having known him.
Heartbroken when I heard the passing of our dear friend and athlete, Aaron Hoover. Definitely sits different as a coach, when you lose a member from your crossfit community that you train with, through the sweat, tears and calluses. My heart goes out to his beautiful family, friends and colleagues.
I’m thankful for the opportunity interacting with Aaron on several occasions, working out with him during our gyms olympic lifting classes, Saturday mornings.
Such an awesome member with a positive soul.
He will truly be missed and will forever be apart of our B.I.G Community. #HooverWod coming in June
I was in the same lab as Aaron in grad school. He was a mentor and a friend. It’s hard to describe just how impactful he was within our lab. He was always willing to share his knowledge and expertise, and help others when they were stuck. He’d happily work through a problem with you for hours, or just go play some ping pong when you needed to take a break.
He was an example of how to succeed as a PhD student, and how to do so in a collaborative way. He’d always speak up when he saw something that wasn’t right, even when it would have been easy to just ignore it and stay quiet. Aaron made our lab a place of camaraderie, a place where we could lean on each other during high and low periods. I am lucky to have known Aaron, and am a better teammate and mentor today because of his example.
His last day in the lab, the whole team wore black framed glasses we’d purchased from a costume store and made t-shirts printed with the email he sent every week reminding us of lab cleanup on Friday morning. In my six years in the lab, no one else got such a send off. Aaron was special, and he’ll be missed.
I am so saddened to learn of Aaron’s departure from this plane. He was a great friend to me when we were pre-teens. I remember him as unselfconsciously sweet, which was a brave thing to be in middle school in the 1990s. I’d call it radical kindness in retrospect. He went out of his way to get me having fun, literally showing up at the front door of my house to tell me what everyone was up to and to lure me out. He had a knack for every single subject in school. I only knew the adult Aaron from a great distance but could see that he was thriving, being true to his inquisitive, life-loving self. My heart goes out to his wife and son, his sister and mom. You are all very much in my thoughts.
Some of my fondest memories of Aaron are around bicycles. He was kind enough to let me take part in his frame building co-curricular at Olin, and taught me everything I needed to know in order to build a bike that remains my favorite ride. I’d always appreciated him as a faculty member, but being his student really let me see what an amazing gift he was to those he taught. We rode the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee together a couple of times; the first time we rode it Ryen had recently been born, and as a consequence Aaron was (for once in his life) NOT in amazing shape; the second time we rode it I think he spent more time waiting for me to catch up than he did riding. And both times he was 100% Aaron — good humored, kind, and enthusiastic (even when he was close to vomiting, or I was close to vomiting).
I will miss him so.
He was a gem!
I had the opportunity to meet Aaron when he joined my gym. Aaron fought valiantly against this aggressive form of cancer and never gave up. He would come into the gym and continue his training during the chemotherapy. He even set goals for himself to achieve. His goals for the year: 300# Deadlift, Bar Muscle Up and 100 unbroken doubleunders. That was the spirit and dedication he brought to our community and his training.
I will miss him dearly. You can bet that we are already planning a WOD in his honor. And yes, it will be a 300# Deadlift, a bar muscle up and 100 unbroken doubleunders.
Thank you Aaron for trusting us with your training and most of all for the memories.
For Aaron’s family, I am so sorry for your loss. I knew Aaron at Berkeley; he was an engineer but came down the hill to hang out with us in the Integrative Biology department. I remember his fancy blue fixie with a sweet Brooks saddle, his curiosity about biology and his willingness to engage with all of us. He was the engineer on our hummingbird heat transfer project. I’d heard he was at Olin and had started a wonderful family but had been out of touch. You have my deepest sympathies. He had a brilliant and cheerful mind and the world is a better place because of his contributions to it.
I was fortunate enough to overlap with Aaron during my PhD in Ron Fearings lab at Berkeley. Amongst our generation, Aaron stood out as a genuine leader that we were lucky to have, and very much defined the culture and experience of the lab. He was the type of mentor that you gravitated towards because you knew that whatever problems you were facing, he would approach it with the experience, intelligence and compassion that separates the good from the great.
But beyond that – he was also just fun to be around – I remember when he got this new bicycle – a power blue fixie – that he was so enamored by. He was riding it up and down the halls of Cory hall, trying tricks and singing the virtues of only having a single gear. You just wanted to know what he was up to, because it was always interesting.
Aarons values that he had pasted on his door for his students are such a good embodiment of him. The world needs far more people like Aaron, and through his career and friendship, it seems like he really did succeed at that. I will continue to try and live up to those values every day, and do my best to spread that to others I work with. Aaron, you will be dearly missed.
As a student and Ninja for AHoovs, he has left a lasting impression on me through his unassailable integrity, incredible ability to meet students at their level, and inexhaustible passion for the work he was doing and the people he was working with. I remember one spring break I was in the wood shop doing a small personal project without a buddy (against honor code) and he noticed me on his way to the lab. He was incredibly graceful in his admonishment but I vowed to never again do something like that. Not because it was particularly dangerous (I’ve been working with the same machines in my garage since I was a kid — although @ current Olin students, this is not a valid excuse to be stupid), but because the thought of doing something that disappointed Aaron was possibly the worst punishment I could think of. He was a community icon and genuinely wonderful human being and of all the loss in 2020, this is the one I have felt most gravely. To his family and loved ones, I wish you whatever peace you can find in knowing he made a lasting impact on so many people. For me personally, I know this tragedy has inspired me to work harder toward being a better engineer, activist, and community member he would be proud of.
Charlie, this is Aaron’s mom. I want to thank you for your kind words about Aaron. And I want you to know that I also often felt Aaron’s (and his sister, Melissa’s) potential disappointment in me to be a powerful motivator. Nothing they ever really said, just their living example. I am so glad you were able to experience that with Aaron and I hope you will carry on.
I was part of the group that ran the faculty search that ultimately led Olin to hiring Hoover. It was clear from the first moment he stepped on campus that we was going to be a gem. We were lucky to convince him to come work with us and he far exceeded what I could have ever expected at that time.
Working with him as a friend and colleague over the past 10 years has been a gift. He was taken way too soon, but I will always be grateful that he was part of my life.
From the moment Aaron showed up at the door of my office during his interview, showing off his bright green socks, to the last conversation I had with him… every single time… that smile, that giggle, that easiness of being, all of it, shone a light from within on all of us! Thank you, Aaron, for your light and that will necessarily continue shining for all of us. Aaron will be with us in our hearts.To the family, thank you for sharing Aaron’s light with us. My heart goes to you.
I’ve known Aaron since we were PhD students in the same lab, having overlapped for a few years before I graduated. Being labmates with him was a blast – from epic ping pong matches and billiard games in the grad student lounges to fun off campus going to music shows, the movies, and social events. After I left grad school, we stayed connected as friends and would hang out regularly whenever together in SF or Boston.
Aaron had an incredible spirit and I’m tremendously grateful for our friendship. In addition to the fun times and geeky intellectual conversations, Aaron had an extraordinary empathy and he influenced my own personal growth and maturity. The wisdom that he shared with me about family life and career ambitious remains a template for how I’ve lived ever since getting married and having a child of my own. Whenever I reflect on our friendship, I feel an enduring connection that fills me with joy. I’ll greatly miss you, Aaron – you and your family are in my heart.
Aaron has left a lasting impact on me as a person and a student. Despite teaching us in PoE while he was getting treatment (Fall 2019), he always walked into class with enthusiasm for a new day and willingness to help. Our project was perhaps the most annoying project in the room (it made the most horrendous noises), but he would sit there for long parts of class being willing to debug and test our project until we felt like we could move forward. When things didn’t work, he always had a word of encouragement that there is always another way around it. He taught us to think creatively, uniquely, and positively in situations where it felt like there was no answer or where it felt like we had failed. He also went out of his way to continuously seek feedback from his students. Every few weeks, we’d get another excited email from Aaron reminding how imperative it was for us to give one another and the teaching team feedback, and he did just as excellent of a job giving us feedback too. He truly demonstrated dedication to our growth that is remarkable and hard to come across. I also still remember how he supported me when I went through a rather challenging time that semester. There were several times where I was barely keeping up, or just not keeping up. He was always supportive, giving me extensions that I needed with no questions asked, not judging my work ethic or personality based on my struggles, and asking what he can do to support me finishing successfully. Sometimes I felt like the whole room was judging me when I walked in late or when I was still working on a previous assignment, but Aaron always made me feel like I was still a good student and answered my questions with respect, care, and clarity, no matter how silly or late the question was. He never once doubted my commitment as a student or my ability to produce successful results even when a normal professor probably would think I was a terrible student. His investment was always in the learning of his students, and those instances demonstrated that so clearly. Despite only spending a semester being a student of Aaron, I learned so much in that class that has helped me to date. I am deeply saddened to hear of his loss and that future generations couldn’t experience the compassion and enthusiasm he taught with, but I wish that he rests in peace. Sending gratitude to his family for sharing him with Olin, and sending warm wishes, love, and strength to his family in this trying time.
Aaron and I were good friends back in the Berkeley days — we bonded over a shared appreciation of good coffee (sorely lacking in the immediate vicinity of campus), fine bicycles, and the simplicity of baldness.
We regularly rode the Transbay Bike Shuttle from San Francisco to Oakland, ferried by a leathery Arizonan named Tomahawk, and had many conversations that were likely annoyingly technical for the early hour of the day (one time, trying to summarize a conversation that had bothered him for the rest of the day, my anthropologist friend worriedly said, “Yonatan and Aaron were having the oddest conversation this morning, something about disciplining a python in a blender”).
When he filed his thesis, we ended up at Jaguar Karaoke in the Korean strip mall down in Temescal, and while most of that evening is a bit hazy for me, I do vividly remember Aaron summoning a full-throated rendition of Metallica’s Master of Puppets that remains to this day the best thing I’ve ever seen anyone do in a karaoke bar.
Our connection waned after we left Berkeley and went on to other things; I hadn’t known he was sick. I’m deeply sorry to hear that he’s now gone — it’s a good reminder to treasure and nurture our friendships, even as distance and isolation conspire to interfere.
Ride in power, old friend.
Oh man, to have heard Aaron belt out Master of Puppets! Thanks for sharing.
Yonatan, I read this page almost daily, my grieving attempt to stay connected to Aaron through people’s memories. And yours is one of my favorites, I look for it every time and revel in the karaoke story. I can scarcely picture it, but also I kind of can. Thank you for this gift. Yesterday I stood on an almost empty Baker Beach listening to Master of Puppets in my headphones at full volume, taking in the waves, the bridge, the windy sky, wanting to scream but settling for silent tears.
As a member of one of Aaron’s SCOPE teams, I am forever grateful for our interactions throughout my senior year at Olin and in the years following graduation. Aaron had the most amazing methods of giving profound support in the must subtle ways even from afar. It was instant comfort knowing he was in my corner, always rooting for me. He always made sure that I was not only being challenged and continuing to learn, but also that I was passionate about what I was doing. I am incredibly grateful that he spent the time and effort to teach me and so many others such great life lessons simply because he believed it mattered and would make a positive difference in the world. I aspire to show up for and impact those around me as he did for me. Thank you, Aaron. You will be missed dearly.
Aaron was my last official ‘appointment’ as Olin Provost. He came to visit me on June 27, 2019, in the midst of his post-operative recovery and treatment, to wish me well. That was Aaron. We talked about our individual life journeys, what was ahead for each of us as we moved into the unchartered future. It was a wonderful visit and we hugged as he left. Of all the accolades that I received that week, Aaron’s visit and our conversation were the most profound and meaningful gift to me. I followed his journey over the past months with admiration and foreboding. I can never imagine myself facing Aaron’s challenges with his grace and grit.
Robin and Ryen, my sincerest condolences to you and your entire family. I am a better person for having known Aaron and feel a void in his loss. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Sending strength and love to the Murdock/Hoover family. May memories of Aaron help you smile through tough times. I’m so glad you were able to spend so much quality time with Aaron during this past year, Melissa. ❤
Aaron embodied grace and graciousness, finding a way to frame things to unlock others’ abilities to solve their own problems. Not that he wouldn’t have helped more directly — he would, always — but because he was a teacher and an enabler of our growth. I am grateful for his presence and what he taught me and my community. In his memory — in his honor — I hope that we can continue some of that grace.
Aaron and I met our freshman year on our single sex dorm floor at Stanford and immediately bonded over music, movie quotes and sneaking into parties where everyone was much cooler than we were (which he quickly corrected by moving to the girls’ floor and dating upperclassmen and hanging out with his cool older sister and her friends). I… was not so fortunate, but we became fast friends throughout school and beyond, living together (again) in our first place in the city after graduation. We played in a band together, went on roadtrips and hosted extremely awesome parties at our place on Broderick street. I was fortunate enough to share all of those cliche trials and tribulations that young adults face alongside Aaron and I can say without a doubt that I look back on those times with intense feelings of joy and sentimentality and am so happy that he was there with me for all of it.
I’ll miss his intelligence and wit. I’ll miss his smile and ability to crack a joke and nail me with a zinger (that I rightfully deserved). I’ll miss the maturity he showed in handling his unfair diagnosis and how much he demonstrated his love for Ryan and Robin. I’ll miss the immaturity he showed when we goofed off on our last zoom calls. I’ll miss his impeccable memory and knack for details, where he could remind me of long ago adventures and conversations we had that I had all but forgotten. But most of all, I’ll just miss Aaron. I’m lucky to have been his friend.
I had the honor and privilege to be Aaron’s advisor for his MS and PhD at Berkeley. I will always remember him as a really fun and creative collaborator. He contributed so much to my group as a mentor to fellow students and was a helpful and kind person. His research really paved the way for rapidly prototyping small robots from inexpensive (and bio-degradable!) materials, which has enabled or inspired at least a dozen (if not more) PhD and master’s projects around the world. His 2.4 gram mini-RoACH (2008) was for several years the world’s lightest autonomous, tetherless, steerable legged robot. As an example of his work, MiniRoACH
https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~ronf/Ambulation/Figures/RobotAndQuarter_WHT_LRG.png, is a showcase for his design creativity and engineering skills. He had the true heart of a teacher-engineer, and after finishing his PhD he was very excited to be involved with hands-on teaching at Olin.
My deepest sympathy to Aaron’s family and friends, especially his wife and son.
To Aaron’s wife, parents, and family:
I am a reader of the Kansas City Star, about Aaron’s age, a fellow PhD, and mom to a little boy and girl. I was moved to read about Aaron’s life and passing and felt compelled to express, even though we have never met, what a cool guy Aaron seems to be, what a good father, and what a loving family he has. Thank you for sharing his story.
I was so honored to know Aaron through his work and commitment to the faculty and students in the Weissman Foundry. His innovative thinking, patience and passion for design made its mark on students from Babson, Olin and Wellesley. He was truly a wonderful colleague.
Aaron was a light. He would lock eyes with you and communicate wild interest, excitement, and mischief. His smile would erupt and challenge you to smile in turn.
Hoov was sick during most of the time we shared at Olin. But he was already a legend by the time I arrived in September 2018. On numerous occasions, faculty, staff, and students would casually share with me their reverence for his creativity, his generosity, and his skill in the classroom. I will try to live up to his example and amplify the gifts he gave to Olin.
Given Aaron’s personal and professional awesomeness with his colleagues and students, I can only imagine how fantastic he was as a partner, father, and extended family member. My heart goes out to Robin, Ryen, and Aaron’s other loved ones. Thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.
College friend from Stanford here… sending our condolences to his family, friends, and community. We are sorry to hear about his passing and know that he will be missed. His legacy lives on not only with his son, but with all of us. May his memory be a blessing and we know he rests in so much love.
I knew Aaron through Melissa, and before I met him in physical form I knew him via a series of adorable baby pictures in which his face alternated between the brow-furrowing expressions of a grown sixty-year-old man and more conventional baby faces of open wonder and surprise. More mind-flexing stories of the young brainiac followed, such as when Aaron was still basically a toddler and became the sensation of the playground for being able to clearly enunciate the word “encyclopedia” upon request. When he showed up at Stanford, we were briefly in the same place and time at the college humor magazine, the Chaparral. He wrote a couple of things, had some laughs, and moved on, but not before I appreciated that he had a gift for clear-eyed observational humor; he quickly considered all the angles at play, even the ones not readily apparent, then offered a dry assessment or a new humorous twist. Consider how he plays his hand in the piece “Staff Fantasy Football” from the June 1997 issue The Transmitter Faces South, a version of which is here (also keep in mind these are 18 – 22-year-olds): https://www.stanfordchaparral.com/magazine/staff-fantasy-football . I crossed paths with Aaron occasionally after that, and I vividly remember him from each encounter. His presence, whether he was in a weary unimpressed mood or ebullient with giggles, was very strong, so I cannot yet accept that he is no longer present. So, friends, I won’t. He is currently inaccessible to the material plane, “Gone Fishin’.” Chapeau to you, Aaron, for your courage and vitality in the face of what you were up against, as documented on this website and elsewhere. I will see you around. Peace and love to the family and all AMH fans worldwide.
I’ve been reading your blog for an hour and your voice comes through like catching up with an old friend over a warm coffee on a brisk Boston afternoon.
I send condolences to the family and will always remember the energetic boisterous mechanically inclined Aaron.
I got to know Aaron over the 10 years that he was an Olin faculty member. When I look around Olin, I see Aaron’s impact in so many of the spaces and learning environments he created and co-created over the years. The transformation of the Olin library, the fabrication spaces, the POE room. I learned the most from Aaron over a couple of years on a committee focused on reinventing these spaces. He shared his copy of the Make Space book with me, and opened my eyes to the nexus of culture, curriculum and space. It will be bittersweet when we are able to return to campus to be reminded of Aaron in these spaces – hanging out outside the shop kicking back with students, deeply engaged with his POE co-instructors and with his POE teams in class, and laughing and drinking coffee with faculty, staff and students at the Acronym pop-up coffee hour. And I can picture coming by his office for a chat, with his bike-themed art on the walls, the tallest standing desk I’ve ever seen, and the coolest piece of furniture at Olin by far (the red couch on wheels). And of course, getting to spend time with and engage with an incomparable colleague. I will miss him immensely. Sending love, peace and my deepest sympathies to Aaron’s family.
My condolences. I’m going through radiation soon and was chuckling at his story about the mask. Stories like his give me strength. Rest in power, Aaron.
I was on the Science Bowl team with Aaron in 1995, when we placed 4th nationally–and incidentally, ate lunch with keynote speaker, Dr. Ben Carson, when he was only a neurosurgeon. I appreciated Aaron’s quick wit and brilliance back then, in the answers he gave and the jokes he made between rounds. I wish I had known he lived so close–I have been up to Needham to visit college friends a few times, since moving to CT in 2013. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends.
LISTEN, CHIP. I’m going to write this to you in the second person because it feels right. I know that you were brilliant and kind and generous, tough and gracious and dignified, professional, accomplished, a leader — all of the things people are saying about you, all of the things we wrote about you above.
But today the things I’m remembering are the totally human, hard ones. Some things maybe only I knew about or shared with you.
1. You were goofy as hell. All wiry limbs and crossed eyes. Always up for a good cockeyed glasses photo. Silly walks, RIDICULOUS dancing. Devastating impressions. You really used your whole voice and body to inhabit someone you thought was hilarious. “This aint nun my bizzzzthness buttttt…” guy lives forever in the sore bellies of everyone in the room that night. And just — really tall. As your body betrayed you, I realized how much your physical container expressed your spirit. Did other people see this lanky goofiness in you? I hope so. But I also secretly (out loud on the internet) hope maybe some of it was only for me because you could cut particularly loose with me. This more than anything was the basis for our lifelong friendship.
2. You had good politics. That’s all. I haven’t heard anyone mention this, so I want to say it. You had a strong moral compass and a clear eye for injustice, particularly racial inequity. Your success didn’t compromise any of this; in fact I think it sharpened your analysis and commitments. You also came to appreciate how much Robin’s labor behind the scenes, even as she built her own career, enabled you to shine in yours.
3. Cool, yes. Good style, easygoing manner, quick wit. But ACTUALLY the coolest when you cared the least about being cool. We spent a lot of our lives on the outside looking in, as the new kids at school, scholarship students, midwesterners in California, and that can make you think the cool thing is always somewhere else. I know you, like I, cared too much about this for too long. But, post-40 plot twist: the cool was coming from inside the house! And as we aged into DGAF, I was so happy to see you inhabit your passion and openness and inquiry, caring less about what other people thought.
4. Man, you were persnickety and exacting. Occasionally quite cranky. People often did not meet your standards. Systems were imperfect and they failed. GOD SAVE anyone stuck with you in an unnecessary line or watching someone do something badly. Your grace was that you (mostly) held this frustration inside, tried not to communicate it generally, and I often wonder about the cost to you of holding this tension.
5. You got caught up in your head sometimes. Maybe often, I’m not sure. For all your engineering creativity, your heart and mind could trap you in ruts. You had intense anxiety that I didn’t fully understand, at odds with the love and support — the outright admiration — of the people around you. You went through bouts of depression that seemed untouchable and made you seem unreachable. Your routines and goals kept you on track. It wasn’t as effortless as everyone thinks, but that’s okay — there’s no shame in effort. People need to know about the effort too.
6. There’s a pattern here. I think more people felt close to you than you felt close to. Your students, colleagues, friends, family (and sister) admired you and wanted your approval. And you wanted their approval. You were self-assured and anxious, generous and guarded, radically kind and extremely judgmental, easygoing and moody, motivated by achievement and prone to immobilizing lows. You were a human being, full of paradox and complexity. A whole human being.
7. And so…I keep coming back to this. Like most people who find a way to thrive that keeps their struggles hidden, you had a knockout sense of humor. You laughed so easily. I could almost always make you laugh and you could always make me laugh, in ways only someone who experienced our wild childhood could. We made each other funnier. We shared a sensibility, a shorthand, and an up-for-it volley that I had with no one else on this earth.
When you stopped laughing or recognizing jokes in the days before you died, I realized something was very wrong. Honestly I didn’t want a life for you that didn’t include these things. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have been so full of life that you had to die in stages and pieces. I am so grateful that you allowed me — invited me — to be there for the final stage. In the end your brain shut down your heart, and instead of finding a cheap metaphor in that I will say that I was comforted to watch your paradoxes resolve themselves in your unfurrowed brow, released from the tensions of being a human with a bigger brain than most.
This was very touching to read, Melissa. I wish I had kept in contact with Aaron through the years. I caught up with him 2 holidays back, and our reunion was awesome. We fell into an easy rapport immediately, and laughed about old times, while also catching each other up with our life stories. I remember thinking that I was looking forward to seeing him again. He was a funny and brilliant person, and I’ll miss him.
I first met Aaron, my son-in-law, in year 2002. My impression was that Aaron was a highly intelligent young man whom my daughter had deeply fallen in love with. The presence of their love could be felt through the sight of their smiles, their simple touches, their voices heard and their hold hands. Throughout the last 20 years, their love for each other had grown and got stronger. They were soulmates for each other for life.
Aaron, my daughter and I made three trips together to my hometown, Taipei, Taiwan in the last 20 years.
The first one was in 2004 (a celebration of my father’s 90th birthday). My family members were so dazzled by Aaron’s presence. Some young family members were so excited, but afraid of looking at him in the eyes directly (maybe because he looked different from the rest of us, or maybe because of his friendly smile, or maybe because of his height, etc.). We had Chinese food the entire time. I was amazed that Aaron was able to accommodate the food better than I did. We had a special tour of then unfinished Taipei 101 tower wearing a hard hat and necessary bells and whistles. We got to see the massive seismic damper located between 88th and 92nd floors up close.
The second one was in 2009 after Aaron and my daughter were engaged. We had a banquet celebrating their engagement with my families and close friends in Taipei. During our stay in Taipei, my father (then 95 years old) sang a children’s song in English in front of us. I had never heard him sing in my life ever, not to mention singing in English. Being a civil engineer, my father was so pleased and proud to know that Aaron, a brilliant engineer, will join our family becoming his granddaughter’s husband.
The third was in 2016. Aaron, my daughter along with little Ryen came to Taipei together. During the walking tours of Taipei city, Aaron had 3-year-old Ryen on his shoulders most of the time. I could tell that both Aaron and Ryen had a great time, especially for Ryen, I think, because he could sight-seeing the city from 7 feet above ground on Dad’s shoulders holding onto Dad’s head.
I did not experience the goofy side of Aaron, but like Melissa said, Aaron was brilliant, kind, generous, tough, gracious, conscientious and dignified. I experienced all these quality traits of his throughout these years. His passing leaves a big hole in our hearts. He will be forever missed by all of us.
Melissa, I remember you and Aaron as young students at Operation Discovery. You both amazed me with your intelligence. You were in my second grade class but of course you were at least two to three years ahead of everyone else. During a few summers when school was out we still had fun programs and that is how I got to know Aaron. Like you, he was very bright. His inquisitive nature and enthusiasm for learning was what made him one of my favorites.
After six years at Operation Discovery I moved to Texas and then back home to OK. I often thought of you two. It was truly rare to have students as gifted as you both were.
About six years ago During research for a project I happened across Aaron’s name, and wondered if it was the same Aaron from KC. I emailed him and he immediately wrote back. I’m not sure if he remembered me but his email was gracious.
I’m so sad to hear of Aaron’s passing. Your memories posted above gave me such a beautiful picture of how well you and he did as adults. It made this teacher’s heart so proud to know the success you both achieved.
My prayers are with you and your mom. Your parents were special to me.
Aaron got me into the world of mini robots when I was a summer undergraduate researcher at Aaron’s Olin robotics & bioinspiration lab. The robot was called a Dynaroch and it was his baby. He taught us how to create a robot ourselves with a laser cut board and how to program these little robots. This remains as one of my happiest memories at Olin. I could really tell that Aaron cares about his students as if they are his family. During the summer, he would bring buns and patties regularly to barbecue and share with everyone for lunch and he filled his lab with snacks (yeah he also got me into liking pop corners.. kettle corn flavor) for the always-hungry college kids. He even invited all of us to his home for a warm family dinner (where I got to meet Robin and baby Ryen) when I was especially homesick, missing my family.
He was a passionate educator, great listener and inclusive leader. He would always brighten the mood with his favorites/upbeat music. I remember he created a collaborative playlist for the students to put their favorite music too.
I am very grateful and fortunate to have known Aaron. I have been inspired by him and learned a ton from him. I’ll miss Aaron, and my heart goes out to his family.
I met Aaron 8 years ago when, he and Robin were looking to buy their house in Boston. They worked very well as a team . They were of one spirit. . Aaron had a task in mind and they settled on their choice of homes the first day. I enjoyed working with them both. Aaron spoke so fondly of his students calling them: “lovable geeks” his love for them was palpable. It has been an honor to know Aaron and his family over these years. His strong desire to take care of them was always obvious.
As president of Olin College, my opportunity to spend time in close contact with Aaron was limited. I knew of him mostly from informal hallway conversations or small group discussions that I managed to observe from the back row. Even these minimal observations made it clear that he was special. The respect and admiration for him that everyone had stood out like a beacon, and his always reasonable, thoughtful, and appropriate suggestions on educational topics reinforced his credibility. (And of course, his playful personality and “coolness” were always apparent.)
Once when I was visiting UC Berkeley, where he was once a graduate student, I heard his name mentioned with the same admiration and respect that characterized his relationships here at Olin. There was little doubt that Olin was extremely fortunate to have attracted him here, to help shape and grow our unique learning environment.
My most striking memory of Aaron came a couple of years ago when I was forced into making a difficult decision about the classroom and shop renovation project in the Academic Center. There was a lot of controversy about the decision, because many Trustees had made substantial donations to improve the learning environment, and the project was on a fast track for completion. However, a consensus among students had reached my office that there was a lot of unhappiness with the project. As part of my investigation, I interviewed Aaron 1:1 (and a few other faculty members) to gain their perspective and independent advice. I’m sure this was a stressful conversation for him (as it was for me) because of what was at stake, both financially and programmatically, and also politically on campus.
Aaron was very helpful to me. He was calm, factual, responsive, and obviously concerned about safety and functionality. I followed his clear advice (and that of others) and made an inconvenient decision that I am sure was right, even though it caused a major disruption. I am very grateful for his courage and honesty, his values, and his respect. He set the bar very high for others in the College–for all of us.
I can scarcely imagine the grief and feelings of los among his family, and those who knew him best. He will live on in our hearts for many years.
I never met Aaron but heard a bit about him in Melissa’s inspiring speeches, making analogies between biomimicry robotics (Aaron’s work) and worker cooperatives (Melissa’s). Aaron was clearly extraordinary. Melissa and family, I’m so sorry for you loss. May Aaron’s memory always be close to each of you, especially Little R.
Aaron was a gem! It is that simple. We worked very closely on establishing and running the Higher Education Makerspace Initiative, a project that involved long hours, detailed planning, and creative thought. At every moment Aaron was upbeat and energetic. I jumped at the chance to work with Aaron as a co-host for one of our international symposiums, noting that the meeting would be beyond-great with Aaron’s leadership, dedication and constant hard work. Aaron always inspired others!
His energy was infectious and advanced thought and programs in many areas in many parts of the world. Aaron will always be a part of our work as we move forward, doing so with his inspiration and motivation driving us forward.
May all be at peace.
I found this blog as a result if performing a web search on bicycle framebuilding. I have built two frames of my own, and before undertaking a third, I decided I should build a fixture, to make this build and, undoubtedly, the future builds, easier. I found his post from August 6, 2019, read it all, and at the bottom, clicked to the next, more recent post in the blog, looking for Part 2 on the building of the fixture. What I found was a story of courage, perseverance, and humanity. I clicked and read through each successive blog post, looking for positive outcomes, hoping for the best. Of course, there were positive outcomes along the way. The end was not what any of us imagined, but I can now imagine the vast legacy he leaves, with the students and the friends and family he has touched. And strangers too, with this blog. I, for one, will build a fixture with the design he has generously left behind. R & R, be so proud of all he accomplished in his short time on this earth.
Twenty years ago, when Aaron I worked for an internet startup in the bay area, he helped me choose a bike. He steered me away from the major brands and introduced me to Kona bikes. I got what he recommended, used it for occasional rides in the hills, and brought it back to Japan with me a few years later. It sat in the garage in pristine condition for years, until I decided to pass it on to my mother’s best friend’s grandson.
Just last month, my mom was telling me that her friend’s grandson, now in sixth grade, recently became very aware of the coolness of his hand-me-down bike. And so by association, I had become super cool in the eyes of this 12-year old kid. I chuckled when I heard this and spent some time talking to my mom about Aaron, the actual cool person responsible for the bike selection, thinking, “I have to tell this to Aaron the next time he visits. He will find it amusing.”
Although it had been quite a while since I last saw him in Tokyo, I always thought that he’d come back to visit sooner or later, either for an engineering conference, or perhaps for studying the traditional Japanese carpentry he was raving about.
So the news of his passing knocked the wind out of me. I spent a few days in a half-daze, half-clarity, letting the memories of Aaron float into my conciousness.
Scrolling through his Instagram feed, I smiled in recognition at the brown bag attached to his bike. And one by one, the details of his last visit in 2013 crystalized in my mind.
His words and laughs and expressions from
that weekend were so vivid and alive, I was filled with joy.
I smiled as I remembered how specific and concise his to-do list was: go watch a keirin bike race; buy a handcrafted handlebar bag from Guu Watanabe; buy a limited edition Shu Uemura cosmetics for Robin.
How he did a double take as a young Japanese guy passed us on the street. He explained, “That guy was wearing ” and mocked himself for becoming a fashion lover.
How he dreamily commented, “I seriously think this is the best pastry I’ve ever had,” after biting into a chocolate danish at a local bakery cafe.
How he confessed about gaining considerable weight, and how he grinned when I told him that he was so friggin’ tall no one’s going to notice a 10 or 20 pounds extra.
How his face shone as he talked about the surge of desire he felt to become a better person, live a better, healthier life, when he first held his newborn son.
How he shook his head in disbelief as we cracked up over his forever memorable face plant during a zen meditation session years ago when he firsted visited Japan with Robin.
How sincere and humble the tone of his voice was when he talked about his love of teaching at Olin and about his students whom he found to be so much more focused and knowledgeable than he had been as a Stanford undergrad.
I am even remembering the time when Aaron started dating Robin. He said he would tap her knees to keep her awake when she rode on the back of his motorcycle. He was all smiles, and everyone at the office knew she was the One.
I can barely recall what I ate for lunch yesterday, yet these memories are so vibrant and lucid, collapsing time and space. And that feels right.
The last time I saw him in 2013, I was struck by how fufilled and happy he was. When I first met him in 1999, he was still quite young, and I think the high standards he set for himself often led to frustration when faced with idiocy and mediocrity of the world. But instead of turning cynical, he quietly built a career and life that nourished his mind and soul.
I will always admire him for that, and his life will continue to influence mine, along with the lives of many others he touched.
My last words to him were, “Bring Robin and Ryan the next time.”
His face lit up, nodded and boarded the Narita Express.
Whenever you’re ready, Aaron, guide Robin and Ryan over the Pond. I will make sure they check off everything on their to-do list and more. It will be my honor.
I didn’t know Aaron well, but I knew him well enough to know that we’ve could’ve been good friends. I interviewed him shortly before he died and it was extremely difficult to edit into something the general public would find interesting. I was only able to work on it in 15 minute increments as his story is very similar to my own and it’s clear what a good guy he was. Anyway, I finally finished it. It’s here: https://youtu.be/Yz6bafLRw5Y
Although I didn’t know Aaron well, I do remember a fun moment we had that I wanted to share. We were eating lunch in high school, and just having a casual conversation between the two of us when he suddenly asked me if I was applying to Stanford. I laughed, and he laughed. It was pretty laughable because I didn’t have a chance. But he was serious and looking for a reply. He peered out from under his ball cap, and his eyes engaged with mine waiting for a reply. “No, I wasn’t planning to,” I said. He gave a sigh of relief, and told me he really wanted to go there, and if nobody else applied there, he’d have a better chance of getting in. We then laughed again about the idea of me getting into Stanford.
I remembered this conversation because it was how I remember him. Fun, silly, joking, and easy going, and yet at the same time highly competitive and driven and determined. He was always engaging to talk to. I remember he told me jokingly that he cut off his toe mowing the lawn. I didn’t know whether to believe him, and thought he was joking. As I smiled, he looked straight at me with a smile and said, “Seriously. I did, man.” He could be funny and serious at the same time, and he was always a blast to spend time with. He was goofy and laid back, and yet I remember him being fiercely competitive, too. After reading many of the comments here, I wish I would have spent more time with him.
I only knew Aaron through high school, after which we never spoke again. But I knew he would go on to be successful. I am so glad he was able to pursue his dreams, and I can tell from the other comments that he lived life to the fullest.
My condolences to his family and friends for this loss.
This is much-belated, but I only just now got the news. I knew Aaron in college – he was a brilliant, prolific, hilarious friend and neighbor. He helped enrich the community around him. Along with a few others in his dorm (Adelfa) he was a stalwart of Lit Guild. We’d meet in the evenings in random corners of West Lagunita, sometimes on the lake, and read poetry.
I regret to say I lost touch after the early years – though I think I saw him from time to time. The descriptions of others leap off the page and confirm my own recollections, across a quarter century.
Aaron elevated the conversations around him. And I can still hear his voice. Late as I am, I wanted to share this.