In memoriam

David Sawi


This is some of my father’s story, as I remember hearing it from him and others:

My father’s father came from the Philipines as a young man. My father’s mother was the American-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, but died when my father was 19. Growing up, my dad helped his family pick crops in a migrant labor camp outisde of Santa Cruz California. When some young bullies in the fields picked on small David, he ran through the vegetable rows to ask his mother for help. She told him to stand up for himself, gave him the knobby green end of a thick carrot, and told him to throw it at them. The bullies learned that carrot ends are as hard as a rocks, and left David alone after that. Dad passed that lesson on to me while dropping me off at middle school once, and this close to an exact quote: “If life gives you a problem, throw a carrot at it.”

His family had almost no money growing up, but raised himself out of poverty with education; the American Dream if ever there was one. His community-college history teacher encouraged him to apply to UC Berkeley, where he got a Master's in Social Work and started counseling incarcerated youths. He became interested in management, and while getting a business degree at Stanford he met my mother, a fellow business student. Throughout his studies he used a desk that he and his father had found on the street, then fixed it up together and refinished. What else could this be but a reflection of his own core values? Resourcefulness and determination, all for the persuit of education. I worked at this same desk when I first began studying physics at community college. I’m not sure he knew how much he inspired me, because I never got the chance to tell him.

My father passed away suddenly the summer before my fourth year in graduate school. Since then, I've heard from others that he was proud since nobody in his family had achieved a Ph.D., making me the first known Dr. Sawi. My father was the best learner I ever knew, taking classes into his 70’s about music and language, agriculture and martime skills. We chatted about birdwatching and breadmaking during the pandemic. He was one of the smartest people and best converstaionalists I knew, and I wish I got to know him longer. I aim to be like him: curious, committed, and generous to a fault. I love you, dad, I hope you rest in peace. An online memorial can be found here.