Sometimes Dragons

In memory of Dr. Halcyon Lawrence

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Head shot of Dr. Halcyon Lawrence in an office.

Yesterday Kate and I learned of the passing of our friend and colleague, the incandescent and incomparable Dr. Halcyon Lawrence. This was an unexpected loss in a year of many (un)expected losses. And while those who knew, loved, and respected Halcyon are still processing, I want to make sure that you, dear reader, know how wonderful a mark she made on the world. I have no qualms about using RedMonk as a platform to do so.

Because Halcyon was most definitely a friend of RedMonk. As a Brittain postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech, Halcyon was in the cohort one year ahead of Kate and me, which means that–as our senior in the pecking order–Halcyon had the option to just let Kate and me flounder our way through Atlanta (and maybe laugh at us while we did so). Instead, she took it upon herself to mentor us both.

For Kate, Halcyon was an official mentor, and Kate has eloquently captured just how warm and kind and smart Halcyon was in this role:

And the full text of Kate’s thread (for posterity):

Everyone who knew @Halcyon_L loved her. She is the most genuinely warm person I’ve ever met.

When I started the @brittainfellows program in 2016, Halcyon was assigned as my mentor. For those of you who didn’t know her, I wanted to share some excerpts from her 1st email to me 1/5


“I am so happy to have you on board and look forward to helping you adjust to the program and life in Atlanta in general–I must confess that it’s been just a year since I moved from my island of Trinidad and Tobago to take up the fellowship, so I am still settling in myself” 2/5


“– However, whatever I have learned along the way is yours to share! Please feel free to call me … if you have any questions or if I can help in anyway with your transition from Pittsburgh.  I’ll be at a couple of the orientation sessions/socials …” 3/5


“I’ll make sure to come find you before the semester begins.

I believe you will find this to be a rewarding fellowship that will result in lifelong friendships and academic collaborations!” 4/5


As anyone who has done the adjunct, VAP, itinerant instructor thing knows, it is genuinely rare to begin a new academic program with this kind of care & welcome. Her words have been prescient, & set a tone that still guides my life. The world will miss your light, @Halcyon_L 5/5

As you can probably tell, Halcyon, whether intentionally or completely unconsciously, made everyone around her a better, smarter, kinder human. A few entirely insufficiently articulated examples:

Although she was not my assigned mentor at Georgia Tech, Halcyon extended the same generous kindness to me that she did to Kate. She was a shining light in a new school in a (for me) new part of the world–one in which she had lived for less than a year.

Halcyon helped completely revamp the CS Tech Comm & Junior Design course series in which I taught while I was at Georgia Tech. Her contributions to this effort–along with those of our excellent colleague Liz Hutter–have been well documented, but in some ways are immeasurable. They helped make the experience of learning computer science better for thousands of Georgia Tech undergrads. Full stop.

Halcyon’s scholarship per se was brilliant. Look all of it up, because it will make you a better, kinder, much smarter technologist.

For Halcyon, students (and colleagues) were always, always humans first. It is easy to lose sight of this in academia (and, most definitely, in the tech industry), but Halcyon never did. I distinctly recall one CS Tech Comm & Junior Design meeting when Halcyon brought up how often our students struggled with the pressures of class, of school, and of life. And anyone who has ever stood up in front of a classroom should recognize this: there is always the possibility that a student drops the class, drops out of school, or much, much worse. And Halcyon, in front of all of our tech comm and computer science colleagues, proclaimed:

We are not going to lose a student. Not on my watch.

This was a mission statement in and of itself, phrased in a way that even the most obtuse of us could understand. And this is the mission that will always stay with me from the time that I was granted with Halcyon: not on my watch. It is a phrase that makes us ask:

  • As teachers, why are we here if not to make every effort to ensure that our students get through the challenges before them?
  • As colleagues, why are we here if not to make sure that the folks who dropped in after us find their way? And maybe we should also check in on the folks who were here before us and see if they are ok? Because the world these days is just a lot.
  • As technologists, why are we here if not to make sure that we leave the world in a better state for the next generation (and no, making a metric tonne of money is not a sufficient alternative motivation)?
  • As communicators, why are we here if not to convey that the humans around us truly matter?

Halcyon mattered. So very much.

But, were I to end with that, she would gently prompt me to do better. Because you, dear reader, matter too. And there is no way I am going to let you forget that.

Not on my watch.


  1. Beautiful tribute to a beautiful human. Thank you. I posted this on a memorial page for Halcyon, but I’ll post it here as well.

    Halcyon was my graduate school sibling. We shared an office, taught courses together, and commiserated about so many things (looking back, what were we worried about anyway??). While we only kept in touch at conferences and in other academic settings, her impact on me will always remain. She taught me so many things. She taught me that kindness, empathy, love, balance were always more important than pushing out just one more manuscript. That success at the expense of humanity was not success at all.

    She was so so so freaking smart. She was so so so freaking ambitious. But most importantly, she was so so so kind. And not in the “southern hospitality” sort of way. You could feel her kindness. Her smile was a warm blanket. Her laugh a needed reprieve in the darkness. She was a real, genuine, sincere, kind, loving soul. The world, our world, is dimmer now she’s gone. I’ll always remember you as my big sister…Rest in power, Halcyon.

    1. That is beautifully said, and so very Halcyon. Thank you for sharing here.

  2. Hi Dr. Fitzpatrick, I’m Hal’s niece. I want to thank you immensely for this beautifully written tribute. It’s overwhelming to see how much she was loved and respected among her colleagues and how much of an impact she made. Thank you for this, I’ll cherish it forever

    1. I am so very sorry for your and your family’s loss. Your aunt truly made the world a better place.

  3. Wow.
    What a beautiful soul.
    May God comfort her loved ones.
    I feel challenged to do better.

  4. A beautiful tribute here—that “not on my watch” moment resonates so hard right now. These questions you’ve prompted in Hal’s honor are wonderful.

  5. I met Hal once when she visited her sister in Jamaica. I remember very clearly the warmth of her welcoming smile and spirit. May God grant His grace to all who loved her!

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