Garik Sadovy – A life, a story
“In the dim mist of the recently passed rains, a heavy, nearly black storm cloud pregnant with the true torrential downpour of a tropical monsoon that is now making its way ponderously over the bay, to the south and out over the faint, forested mountains of Coron Island, I can see the dull red umbrella shaped dome of a giant flowering tree maybe a quarter of a mile down the mountainside that stands out against the brilliant green in the sinking sun. I’m sitting on the railing of an open gap in the wall of the chapel that sits high above the small village of Malbato; the white steps that lead up a winding path to the entrance are lit with a partial glow, giving the scene an almost holy look, and I can see the arcing shadow of the cross above me playing across the giant fronds that begin about three feet after the chapel ends. Far below me, along the main highway, an intermittent ribbon of shining concrete, that, at times can become little more than a treacherous bridge with two sets of warped planks keeping huge trucks and motorbikes alike from plunging into swiftly flowing rivers below, the lights of a late night moped run, probably to the town of Coron, about 17km to the southeast, and its accompanying machine gun patter drift up to my ears and I ease back against the cool stones in a state of almost perfect peace. And then, just as the sun passes behind the last of the clouds that ring the tops of the misty mountains behind me and as I decide that this scene could not become more beautiful, the twinkling of a multitude of fireflies begins to fill the branches of the surrounding trees, hanging for long moments in the air, making it appear as if the trees have stars hanging from their branches in some otherworldly vision of Yggdrasil, the World Tree from Norse myth. I am overcome and cannot even muster a sigh. It is right at this moment that a bat passes within 2 inches of my face, no doubt hunting one of the last mosquitos left after the purging floods from the sky, and I surprise myself by having no reaction whatsoever. It was just too ideal to even respond.” Garik Cruise Sadovy, July 7, 2011, Malbato Church, Philippines
Garik appreciated a good story, whether he was reading (LOTR), writing (Indonesian poetry), teaching (Life Style Design: a 1-credit Honors course at NCSU), or speaking (TEDx Talk). Maybe it was his vocabulary – he had 6,000 words by age two-and-a-half and checked out Jurassic Park from the adult section of the library at age seven to double check Michael Crichton’s dinosaur paleontology (Crichton got it wrong). Or maybe it was his imagination and his advocacy for “living unconventionally” (as chronicled in his college yearbook), extending even further to the newer term “cognitive disinhibition.” No matter what you call it, his intense curiosity, his sincere generosity, and the passion he brought to his life’s pursuits lie at the root of his diverse experiences and the remarkable adventures that make up the chapters of his story.
Whatever the cause and source, a proper memorial tribute to Garik requires that we tell a good story about him.
For starters, consider this statement from a scholarship recommendation: “To whom it may concern — Garik is unlike any young adult I’ve ever met. Garik is an individual with unique qualities who doesn’t follow petty mainstream student interests. I can assure you that you have never met anyone like Garik. He has my highest recommendation; you will not be disappointed.”
Or another: “Garik is unequivocally the most brilliant student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching and mentoring. He is a consummate scholar and critical thinker. Undergraduate education was a waste of time for him, his professors confessed to me that he knew more than them. I have advised literally thousands of students who have gone on to be physicians, attorneys and most of all scientists – Garik Sadovy outshines them all – period. You will not regret having Garik as a member of your lab. Garik is going to be one of the most lauded scientists this country has ever known.”
But that’s getting somewhat ahead of the story.
Born February 15, 1990 in suburban Dallas, Garik got his middle name, Cruise from his mom, Ellen, and his surname from his dad, Leo. Eighteen months later he welcomed his brother Weston and two months after his 3rd birthday he greeted his sister Jana, both of whom he adored. Oh, the Lego masterpieces he would design and build with his brother and the harmonious duets he would sing with his sister. As Jana would remark shortly after his death on May 11, 2019 (age 29), “It was always the three of us.”
And so it was – always the three of them – from Gram and Granddad’s “daycare” (Sara and Aaron Cruise), digging in the dunes of coastal Oregon when at Nana’s (Doris Sadovy), and ice skating with Grandpop (Chet Sadovy), to Greenhill School and Good Shepherd School (Dallas), St. Timothy’s School and Wakefield High School (Raleigh), and even in college, where they each at one time or another lived in the Honors Quad at N.C. State, and where each graduated with an engineering degree – Materials Science and Engineering in Garik’s case.
Garik graduated Summa Cum Laude, served as president of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, and was a member of the University Honors program, Leadership in Action, the Order of Thirty and Three, the Golden Chain, and the mountain cycling team. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar nominee from NCSU and was frequently asked to mentor fellow students (for many reasons, including that he figured out early on that great things come to those willing to ask for help). Garik capped all this off by being chosen as the student speaker for his college graduation day.
You could never put Garik into just one category – an autodidact in numerous subjects, a culinary explorer, an Eagle Scout, a varsity lacrosse team captain (where he won the district’s Sportsmanship Award his senior year – something for which his father is most proud), and a co-founder of the Wakefield Mountain Biking Club. He treasured voice as his instrument of choice, singing with the Raleigh Boychoir at venues like National Cathedral and the Wright Brothers first flight centennial, with the St Michael’s Episcopal Church choir, and in 2010 at Carnegie Hall (“Sing for the Cure”), then briefly with the NC Master Chorale. He regularly received admirations for his speaking and singing voice.
And that dazzling smile.
Fascinatingly witty, Garik delighted in wordsmithing and was a crafter of clever prose and poems, some say in a Faulkneresque style. There was also the strong influence of G.K. Chesterton, who made his points with popular sayings, proverbs and allegories, while first carefully turning them inside out. His mom thought Garik a potential successor to Crichton, about whom Garik wrote this:
“I started and finished Jurassic Park on the plane ride from NY to Tokyo, . . . probably the best way possible to start a month long excursion to the Philippines to make environmental evaluations. . . . [Crichton’s] books set the tone for my thinking processes here, as they have been setting the tone of my life since The Lost World made its debut in my bed at the age of six, and remains the only book that I read in its entirety, without stopping once (True, I did stay up all night reading Harry Potter 6, but I put the book away to make myself some oatmeal with peaches). You want to know how I got the way that I am? Well, it was a lot of things, but if you read some Crichton, you’ll understand a big piece of it. His death in 2008 was one of the saddest days I have ever been through, because while those of my family that I have lost were people that I knew, cared for, and will have a growing understanding of even in death, Michael Crichton will never write another book for me, and I will never get to meet him. I once wondered what meeting Crichton would be like, since, from his personality in his nonfiction, we seem to share a lot of the same ideals and ideas. I always imagined that we might catch each other’s eye from a distance, and I would give him a respectful nod and a knowing look, and then he would come over to me and we’d have a drink and laugh a lot. But that will never happen. My mom recently described me to a friend as Crichton’s successor. It was one of the best compliments I could have possibly been given, and maybe someone will endeavor to ensure that it makes it on to the dust jacket of my first book.”
Wait, there’s more. Garik was a certified rescue, scientific, and master diver, an expert canoeist and kayaker who, when in NC, often explored Falls Lake, many times taking his father or friends out to show them the nesting grounds for bald eagles, egrets, herons and ospreys, or to design and build spectacular artisan campfires. He actively sought and photographed sunrises and sunsets at Neuse River Dam, Atlantic Beach, in Yogyakarta and numerous other points around the world. He hiked Philmont in New Mexico, paddled into SeaBase in the Florida Keys, ran a marathon, climbed a volcano barefoot, and witnessed the transit of Venus and a total solar eclipse. Garik was gifted with a profound appreciation for the majesty in nature which brought him pure joy and excitement for life.
To say he had a penchant for languages would be an understatement. He spoke enough Polish to thrive during a summer of RNA research in Posnan and a memorable, moving journey as a witness to Auschwitz. He recalled enough high school Spanish to talk his way out of a mishap with guards at the Honduran-Nicaraguan border while engaged in a wildlife survey. Yet it was Indonesian into which he put his time, effort, and heart, spending over three years there on a Udall Scholarship, a Boren Scholarship (undergrad), and Boren Fellowship (graduate), as well as two State Department funded Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) terms, also later serving on the CLS Advisory Board. His time in Indonesia provided for a range of experiences, from extraordinary friends and adventures, to orangutans and Komodo dragons, to being a first-hand witness to extreme poverty and even to a killing. As a consultant for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) headquartered in Bogor, and with an Indonesian colleague, Garik lead thirty non-Indonesian speaking researchers in a two month deforestation survey in Kalimantan National Park on the island of Borneo, where his command of the language allowed him to successfully negotiate with the locals, to calm their wariness of strange scientists with even stranger equipment, and convince them to accept and assist with their work there.
Garik had big plans for his future. Although admitted into the climate science program for a doctorate at Scripps Institute of Oceanography on a fully-funded five-year scholarship, health issues that developed during the third Indonesian tour kept him from attending. As his health recovered, his interests changed as well, and immediately before his death he was preparing himself for a PhD in cognitive science/AI during his employment as a civilian Data Scientist for the US Department of Defense, living in Newport, NC, and working at the Marine Corp Air Station at Cherry Point.
There is no shortage of favorite stories about Garik among his friends and family, from Garik promising a colleague they were safe – that he could keep a bank of Komodo dragons at bay with only a forked stick – to a roommate’s recollection of his cauterizing wounds with a lighter and his gleeful expressions during kettlebell workouts, to how Garik pondered with a high school friend the problem of human flight (inspired by the Lucifer graphic novels) and later determined, accounting for the various physical and anatomical requirements, that “if humans had wings they’d partially power their flight by flexing their butts.”
Five year old Garik drew a “shark map” on a sheet of paper and carried it with him for a long time, showing anyone even slightly interested his illustrations and the names of the numerous types of sharks he’d studied. After impressing a reptile expert that spoke at his school, Garik was asked by his kindergarten teacher to return to her class the next year to share his knowledge of sharks with her students. This continued even after he moved to NC two years later. Garik would fly back solo to TX with his now full-size poster tube to give this presentation to the current kindergarten class.
In third grade he shared a classical music CD with a mutually-appreciative friend, saying that it brought tears to his eyes when listening to it at night. In tenth grade, he wrote, tears came when reading Wiesel’s Night (four years later he was a witness at Auschwitz-Birkenau) and in his last year he said the same about the utter stillness of a night on Falls Lake canoeing – in silence, grace takes hold. A longtime friend aptly wrote that in the things he loved, he was “deep, delightful, silly, playful, and profound all at once,” that he “saw possibilities for humans far beyond most,” was “always interested in flipping his mental world on its head,” and that it was his “gift to strive to make real all the wonder that he saw possible.”
We learned from a friend that “one of Garik’s nicknames as an undergrad was ‘Elf Prince’ – Elf because he always seemed to be off on a noble and consuming mission the likes of which we mere mortals tried but failed to grasp – Prince because he never came across as arrogant or high and mighty, always a man of the people, and for all that I saw, that was the truth.” Another friend shared, “Garik was a friend and committed steward of the good. Where many settled, he was true to a greater path.”
We remember the snow day when he coined the term “snow-yaking,” taking the kayak gifted to him by a friend down the steep hill in the backyard, going airborne off a log and plunging into the creek below unscathed.
Rescuing a hummingbird whose wings were pinned down by clustered spider webbing, Garik with characteristic calm, deftly plucked the debris away until the bird flew off to perch on a tree branch, watching him for a while, until it had to fly for food.
One of Garik’s scoutmasters reminisced about “the exuberance of Garik in his life,” that he could “toil all day on an effort and then the culmination of this would bring absolutely gleeful joy.” Another of his scoutmasters added he would always remember Garik’s smile and his sense of adventure, which for his parents “had to have been a wild ride,” and for not holding him back; “we got to know him for who he was.”
What about Garik’s probing of his trusted friend and resource for all things Latin American, sharing his intention to devote some of his next decade to writing a novel series of alternative global historical fiction? Another friend shared that they read aloud together to improve language skills – her English, his French, or jointly Indonesian – and ending SKYPE calls with a song. A close Indonesian friend told of their complex philosophical explorations, “getting into his mind,” and how he encouraged her to venture from her native home, first to Russia for advanced academic pursuits, and later to the USA.
The common theme across peoples’ Garik Stories is how much he impacted their lives for the good. As Weston remarked, “We each knew a different Garik,” which of course is because of ourselves, not Garik. No one saw the whole package, yet all of us are grateful for the portion he did share with us, and for the time we spent with him. Normally a parent’s legacy is their children, yet because of the reach and depth of Garik’s impact, the tables have been turned, and all of us are now Garik’s legacy as we live our lives in some way guided by his kind, generous, and insightful influence.
To know Garik well was to know that he had a unified vision of his life, values, and character, and that he would not make a decision that was not aligned with his core values. As a teen preparing for his Eagle Project, he chose to work with the Episcopal Farmworker’s Ministry (EFwM) in Newton Grove, NC, helping to enrich the lives of some of the 400,000 migrant workers in the state, and he stayed in contact with Father Tony and later Juan. The people there and the work they do significantly influenced him and became a connection to the more global vision for service that he would develop. As he wrote:
“Around my senior year of high school . . . I saw clearly the implications of nanotechnology for improving the lives of those less fortunate. I had been working with migrant farmworkers for about two years by that time and borne witness to their needs and struggles, and I saw how technological advances in biological engineering might mean an improvement in the quality of their lives . . . .” These particular dreams are lost, though we do continue to support the EFwM financially in his memory.
Garik’s own tales of adventure are far more intriguing than we could possibly convey here, and his passion for writing thankfully left us with many memorable stories capturing the intricacies of events in his life. Here are some links to his writing:
video (high school): “Whales Spy for Sweden” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DItxc7qmkwk
TEDx Talk video – “How LSD (Lifestyle Design) changed my life”:
In one significant published piece of work, Garik wrote, “And then a strange thing happened. I got back from Auschwitz, knowing that I had to write about it, but all of a sudden, I was pushed to make something that would both hit people with something they had never seen before and come across as something a professional would publish. And I did it with the title Dragon’s Teeth. It got published a year later, and a rep from a foundation for Jewish Studies sent me an appreciative letter and a free book. I keep it on a shelf.” We don’t have access to this, though an interview Garik gave with NCSU’s Technician on his Auschwitz experiences in summer 2009 is available at:
After a three-hour phone conversation with his mom that same summer, Garik ventured out into the natural world around Posnan, Poland, where he was living at the time, to write a eulogy for his maternal granddad. Here is an excerpt of “Ode to Granddad,” following his explanation that, when asked to name a role model on scholarship applications, he would list Milton’s Lucifer:
“In reality, Granddad rubbed off on me more than the devil ever did, as he had all his best traits: a fierce independence, the utmost code of integrity, an unflinching sense of loyalty, an appreciation of the still and small that is so rarely found in the world today. But of the traits I rejected in Lucifer, I replaced them with the aspects of Granddad’s composure: temperance and humility, an optimist’s hope for life and the ability to love and devote one’s self to others on the most profound level . . . (literally) Granddad embodied this philosophy, and now . . . it is startling how much of my personality is the product of things I recognized in him.”
And, as a dear friend reminded us, Garik, as the student speaker for his high school’s Senior Night, left those gathered there with these words, “May the moon guide your footsteps, the sun light your road, judgement not fall too swiftly, and in the end, the world make you whole.”