Important Lives – 8.20.21
Letter from Dean Sive - August 20, 2021

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

You know the scenario – while turning on the shower, a moth flutters up. It’s one of those beautiful white ones with wings carefully outlined in black and small yellow spots on either side. But moths are not built for water, and a drop or two sadly sends the little animal down the drain. Every life is important, and this week brings ongoing news of many lives in danger. In the fires of the western US, earthquakes in Haiti, the turmoil in Afghanistan, tropical storms in our country and abroad, in the rising number of COVID cases. We send warm wishes for the safety of your family and friends in these regions or affected by the virus.

My mom passed away on July 31, in South Africa, after a short illness that was not COVID. Her life was important to me and our family. She was ninety-nine, with a sharp mind, perhaps because she was never without a book. When I moved to Northeastern, my mom told me how on visits to the MFA, she had seen Northeastern across the road, and was so proud that I was Dean at this fine university!

Penelope Florence Schwartz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on May 15, 1922 to Constance Ida and Albert. It was not a lavish upbringing, and she left school without graduating to pitch in. When WWII came, Mom joined the Women’s Auxillary Air Force, and ironically, that time was a highlight of her life. Afterwards, she was introduced to my dad Frederick Sive, and they married in 1950. Dad was smart and kind, but he had severe epilepsy and it was tough for Mom to cope. She did her best and was a loving mom, building for us a comfortable home with an emphasis on the importance of education, for which she did not get the opportunity.

My mom was wonderful – intelligent, beautiful, compassionate, creative, and well respected. She loved experiencing new things and took up competitive ballroom dancing when she was eighty-five. I’m so grateful that she lived long and was always there for me. She cared whether the first zinnia was flowering, whether I was working too hard, to please kiss the dog on his nose, and she loved absolutely everything about her grandchildren. When Mom turned ninety, we made a splashy celebration and I wrote for her “Ten Things You Did for Me”, that listed the valuable influence of her dedication to walking, reading, education, gardening, empathy with action. I valued that she was respectful of the life choices made by her children, and her view that the way to get along is to make friends and work in a positive way.

Right before the pandemic halted travel, we had a lovely visit in Johannesburg. We made it to her favorite fish restaurant, drank cappuccinos, watched quiz shows and talked lots. Her hearing was poor, and after that our communication became email and brief phone calls, but I have no doubt that Mom knew she was loved by her family to the very end. Since it was not feasible to get to South Africa for her funeral, we went to green and peaceful Vermont on a long-planned family vacation. It was a great place to honor Mom and her grandchildren’s beloved ‘GP’, amidst the clouded mountains reaching to heaven, with a memorial candle every day and the Mourners Kaddish (a prayer). Our old dog Archer came along. One night as I brushed his teeth and kissed him good night, I thought how pleased Mom would have been about the vacation. And how she would love to know that Archer was having the best time. I told her anyway.

Every life in our College of Science Community is important. Each person is valued and respected, each contribution is crucial to our College success. As the academic cycle starts afresh, as we bring in new students at every level, as we push our groundbreaking ‘good science’ research forward, as we start to hire new faculty, as we keep everything running well, as we keep safe from COVID, let’s honor one another, and work together – effectively, thoughtfully, and kindly. Let’s enjoy the last bit of summer and begin to welcome the new year.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University