Ottawa 'star' researcher mourned after H1N1 death

A University of Ottawa chemistry professor who died this week after contracting swine flu is being remembered as a scientific star and a devoted family man.

A University of Ottawa chemistry professor who died this week after contracting swine flu is being remembered as a scientific star and a devoted family man.

Keith Fagnou, 38, who was originally from Saskatchewan, died Wednesday in hospital of flu-related complications after being diagnosed with the H1N1 influenza virus.

On Thursday, he was remembered by his friend and former graduate supervisor Mark Lautens as "exceptionally bright and exceptionally down-to-earth."

"He just turned out to be a star in every way possible," said Lautens, a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto. "He was the most productive person, I think, in the history of my [research] group."

Lautens, who knew Fagnou for more than 10 years, last saw his former student about two weeks ago at the airport in Raleigh, N.C. They talked briefly about  Lautens's 50th birthday party, which Fagnou was organizing.

"I said, 'I'll see you in a couple of weeks,' " Lautens recalled.

Lautens learned of Fagnou's death by email while teaching in Berlin.

Fagnou, a former naval reserve officer, studied education at the University of Saskatchewan and taught chemistry before moving to Toronto, hoping to pursue graduate studies under Lautens. He spent a year taking extra courses and then was accepted into a master's program.

He was an "incredibly gifted" scientist and teacher, Lautens said. He recounted that once when he went to a conference in Hawaii, he asked Fagnou to fill in and teach one of his classes. Afterward, he got a flurry of emails from students saying what a great lecture it was.

Fagnou also had a good sense of humour. With another student, he used to organize "Abba Fridays" — days when songs from the 1970s Swedish pop band were officially the only songs that played on the lab stereo.

And he was very devoted to his wife and three children, passing on a recent conference in Quebec City that he would have normally attended, due to family responsibilities.

"He told me he couldn't attend because he was taking his daughter out for Halloween," Lautens said.

Fagnou became a professor at the University of Ottawa after receiving his PhD in 2002. His research focused on new types of catalysts, chemical compounds that speed up particular chemical reactions.

Fagnou is not believed to have had any pre-existing health conditions that could have led to the flu complications, the University of Ottawa reported. His was the fourth flu-related death in Ottawa since the beginning of September.

A funeral will be held for Fagnou on Sunday at McEvoy-Shields funeral home at 1411 Hunt Club Rd., beginning at 12 p.m. A memorial service will be held following the funeral in the McEvoy-Shields chapel at 2 p.m.

Corrections

  • Fagnou's supervisor was Mark Lautens, not Gary Lautens as previously reported.
    Nov 13, 2009 9:40 AM ET