Ottawa

Students remember passionate Carleton professor who died in plane crash

Students at Carleton University are mourning the loss of a well-liked professor after the head of the Institute of African Studies died Sunday in a plane crash in Ethiopia.

'It's a really, really big loss. I don't think words can explain how big of a loss this is to many lives'

Pius Adesanmi was killed, along with 18 other Canadians, in Sunday's plane crash. (Facebook)

Students at Carleton University are mourning the loss of a well-liked professor after the head of the Institute of African Studies died Sunday in a plane crash in Ethiopia.

All 157 people on board Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 — including an Ottawa woman who worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — died after the plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa.

The plane had been bound for Nairobi, where Pius Adesanmi was on his way to attend a conference with the African Union.

"He was such a big part of the institute, and he worked so, so hard to build it up to be everything that it was and everything that it meant to the students," said Justine Cosby a fourth-year student pursuing a minor in African studies who worked closely with Adesanmi to develop a presentation for students headed to Africa to study abroad.

Cosby found out about his death on social media and was shocked.

"You hear about these things all the time but you never really think that it's going to hit you so close to home," she said. "No one really understands unless they knew him."

Prof. Nduka Otiono talks with CBC's Adrian Harewood about his friend and colleague Pius Adesanmi 8:24

It was his personality and passion for African studies that resonated with so many of his students, including Annika Van Drunen, who took Adesanmi's African literature course.

"He just always came into class really excited and happy," she said. "No matter what, his door was open and you could go in and talk and he'd always greet you and be so excited that you were stopping by and seeing him."

"It's a really, really big loss. I don't think words can explain how big of a loss this is to many lives," added Kika Otiono through tears.

She considered Adesanmi a second father because he and her father had known each other for 25 years.

Annika Van Drunen took Adesanmi's African literature course and said his passion for the subject came across in his teaching. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

She remembers his laugh echoing through the halls of the campus.

"He was just such a lively person, very joyful, jovial. He always had something funny to say."

On Monday, people were signing a book of condolence outside Adesanmi's office in the Institute of African Studies. A photo of him stood beside the book, along with a somewhat foretelling passage the professor had posted on his Facebook page the day before his death.

A book of condolence and a photo with his last post on social media sits outside Pius Adesanmi's office in the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

"It's so difficult to come to terms that he isn't just coming back here," said Nduka Otiono, who is student Kika Otiono's father and also a colleague of Adesanmi's.

He last spoke, and laughed, with Adesanmi on Friday, he said. Nduka Otiono fondly described Adesanmi's striking personality and jokingly spoke of how his towering stature often made others feel short.

But Nduka Otiono also expressed sadness that it took so long for the man he knew, who had an almost rockstar status overseas, to become recognized in Canada. He said Adesanmi was a public intellectual who had done a lot of public work, and they had recently joked he would have a very public death.

With files from Robyn Miller