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Yale mourns loss of a bright young light

Medicine@Yale, 2009 - Nov Dec


An idealistic and dedicated woman, graduate student Annie Le planned to devote her life to medical research

On October 12, a memorial service that mixed prayer, remembrances, and music was held at Yale’s Battell Chapel for doctoral student Annie Marie Le, 24, whose body was found on September 13 in the School of Medicine’s Amistad Street Research Building, where she had been conducting experiments. Le’s death was ruled a homicide, and a laboratory technician has been charged with her murder.

In remarks to the assembled mourners, Yale President Richard C. Levin said, “Yale remains a close community. When tragedy strikes we all feel it intensely. The fabric of the whole here is very tightly knit; when one thread is pulled the afghan unravels. We are, by nature, not isolated from each other, but interconnected.” Levin called Le “a model student for the Yale of the 21st century … And it is in our hearts that Annie’s spirit will live.”

During the service, solo piano and violin performances punctuated prayers and remarks by Levin; Yale’s University Chaplain and Roman Catholic Chaplain; Jon Butler, Ph.D., dean of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; and several of Le’s personal acquaintances.

Le, of Placerville, Calif., came to Yale in 2007 as a graduate student in the Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences after earning her undergraduate degree in cell and developmental biology at the University of Rochester.

At Yale, she worked in the laboratory of her advisor, Anton M. Bennett, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology, whose research focuses on a family of enzymes that regulate cell signaling, with emphasis on the role these enzymes may play in human disease.

Le, who had dreamed of a career at the National Institutes of Health after her graduate training, was exploring how metabolic stresses influence an enzyme believed to be involved in controlling mitochondrial function in muscle cells, possibly leading to metabolic disease.

“Annie came to Yale with high expectations and was truly excited about the bright prospects of a career in research,” Bennett said. “She showed that she was more than ready to do what was expected of her.” Bennett characterized Le as “a dreamer with clear visions and plans, who knew that she had to work hard to achieve those dreams,” and noted that she never complained. “Instead, she asked, ‘How can I help?’ And she always did.” Le’s research is slated to be published in a paper that she co-authored, Bennett said. “We dedicate this paper in her memory.”

Le was born in San Jose, Calif., and spent most of her childhood in Placerville. She graduated from Union Mine High School in 2003, at the top of her class of 362. As a college student at Rochester, she met her fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky, now a graduate student in physics at Columbia University.

A eulogy composed by Le’s family read, in part, “Annie was loved by everyone who knew her and special to all those who came in contact with her. She was a kind-hearted human being who was devoted to her family and friends, always sacrificing her time to help others. Her laughter was infectious and her goodness was ingenuous. … She was a considerate daughter, a thoughtful sister, a generous niece, a spirited cousin, a loving granddaughter, and a gracious friend. We will always remember her beautiful smile, her fun-loving spirit, and the joy that she brought to us all. Annie Marie Le will be profoundly missed.”

Le is survived by Widawsky; her father and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hoang Le; her mother, Vivian Van Le; her brother, Chris Tri Le; her half-siblings, Martin Le and Emmie Le; her guardian parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Linh Nguyen and their three children, Dan, Ryan, and Sean Khiem; her grandmother, Thang Thi Vu, as well as several aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Memorial donations may be directed to the Annie Le Fellowship, Yale Office of Development, P.O. Box 2038, New Haven, Conn., 06521-2038. Donations may also be made in Annie’s memory to the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, 330 Seventh Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, N.Y., 10001, and online at

During Le’s funeral in El Dorado Hills, Calif., in late September, her mother read a poem in Vietnamese, translated into English by Le’s brother Chris, that included these lines: “I sang lullabies by your side this week, like I did when you were a baby, wishing you a peaceful sleep.”