If there was any comfort to be found for friends in the wake of Hanlon MacDonald’s sudden and shocking death last week, it was that the junior bioengineering major, sorority sister and loving and generous friend packed a brief life with exuberance, joy and passion.
“Even with all the confusion and sadness of the past week,” said Tara Hofferth ‘15, “I know her short life was so full. I’ll always remember that amazing smile, those big brown eyes that would brighten when she talked about something mischievous. I’ll love and miss her forever.”
Hofferth, a fellow member in MacDonald’s Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, was joined by friends and others who knew her best during her time at Lehigh at a service of celebration and remembrance in Packer Chapel in late August. The service was attended by nearly 250, including President Alice Gast, senior administrators, faculty and students.
One by one, they shared stories of her kindness and generosity, her contagious enthusiasm, her warmth and sensitivity, and her formidable intellect.
It was just one week earlier, on the day that new students arrived on campus filled with hope and promise, that the university community learned that Hanlon had died, said University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen in opening the service.
“The shock went deep. The grief was widespread. The sense of unfairness was palpable. This loss seemed to touch everyone,” he said.
Early to the lab
Steffen spoke of Hanlon’s academic, athletic and musical accomplishments, her journey toward wisdom, and her goals of helping others through biology-related research. Her long-term career aspirations were recalibrated after a 2010 diagnosis of chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy–a disease so rare that it affects only 200 people in the country.
“But she used this devastating news to refocus her energies on helping others,” he said. “So let’s be grateful for the joy in her life that touched many others. She lives on with us in memory and hope. She lives on through us. That is the very testament of God: That love is stronger than death.”
Bryan Berger, assistant professor of chemical engineering, fondly recalled his first impression of her: an eager, earnest student who showed up in his office to ask if she could begin work in the lab early. In just a year, he said, she accomplished an extraordinary amount.
“That really speaks to her talent as a scientist,” he said. “She was a joy to work with, and she reminded me and everyone else working in the lab of the joy of researching.”
Her work in Berger’s lab was a life-altering experience, said her friends, who recalled the passion that she poured into it. MacDonald surprised friends by eschewing social opportunities to “get back to the lab to work on a 200-slide Power Point presentation,” said former roommate Sophie Blau ‘15.
Said another roommate, Elizabeth Campbell ‘13: “I never met another person with her enthusiasm for life. She had this crazy dedication and passion that was contagious, and I’m so incredibly thankful for the time I got to spend with her.”
Sorority sister Emily Shapiro said that the legacy MacDonald leaves is a life lesson that would serve anyone well: “Live life with a smile on your face.”
The family of Hanlon MacDonald requests that donations in her memory can be made to the Albany High School Booster Club, P.O. Box 8881, Albany, NY 12208-8881, or to the Delmar Dolfins Swim Club, P.O. Box 274, Delmar, NY 12054.