By Вen Li
As friends and family across North America and Europe mourn the avalanche deaths of seven skiers in British Columbia on Mon., Jan. 20, students and faculty at the University of Calgary gave special attention to one victim in particular, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering graduate Naomi Heffler.
“The one thing I will remember about her was she always had a smile, in a chipper, good mood,” said fourth-year chemical engineering student Jason Locke. “She always seemed in a good mood. Even when all the stuff piled on, she seemed to take it very well. When you said ‘hi’ to her, she would always wave back with a smile, it was like she had a smile in her voice. She was one of the most pleasant people in the world to talk to.”
Though she graduated last year, many on campus were friends of Heffler. Her passing represents both the loss of a colleague and of a talented engineer to the community.
“It’s so sad, she had very good, very excellent potential to do well as an engineer,” said Dr. Ayodeji Jeje, a Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Professor who taught Heffler in her third and fourth years of study. “She was always happy, easy-going, but she did really well in school.”
According to both Locke and Jeje, Heffler was a well-rounded individual who enjoyed the outdoor life as much as her academic pursuits.
“She was a hard-working student but she has a joy of life,” said Jeje. “Schooling is not all she was about.”
An avid outdoors enthusiast, Heffler enjoyed skiing and canoeing in Alberta and B.C. She was also an outdoor guide and telemark skiing instructor.
“One of my favourite memories of her, which went with her outdoorsy style, was every year during engineering week, we had a bachelor/bachelorette auction where all the funds would go to charity,” said Locke. “Naomi, when she heard about this, jumped at the chance to help a charity.
“The winning bidder got a telemark skiing lesson from her, which was a lot more than what everyone else did. That was awesome,” he continued.
Heffler’s academic career was also distinguished. After winning the matriculation merit award in 1996, she transferred from General Studies to Chemical Engineering in 1997. Heffler earned an undergraduate merit award in 1998 and the PanCanadian Petroleum award in 1999.
“I wouldn’t claim to know the scope she dabbled into, but she took courses in biology, English, religious studies, geology–a wide interest, she’s well rounded,” said Jeje while referring to her transcript. “With everything here, she has no bad grade. She was well rounded and that is what was good about her.”
Heffler graduated from Chemical Engineering in Spring 2002 after an internship in Ottawa where she worked on projects related to the environment. According to Locke, Heffler chose Ottawa for the internship position, and to row.
“A lot of students came to school because industry is what to do in life,” said Jeje. “Naomi did environmental activities and wanted to make a difference with her talents.
“She had the right attitude toward life–do the best you can, try to enjoy herself,” he added.
Locke, who knew Heffler through shared classes, saw much more in her than a student.
“She always had a smile on her face,” he said. “Also, from what I last heard was that her plans were only to work as much as she had to so she could afford to ski. She was totally ‘in her element’ and doing what she absolutely loved to do when she passed away.
“When I heard Naomi died, I thought she was one of those people who didn’t deserve it, she was one of those people who you hoped to bump into in 30 years down the road, with the same smile on her face.”