A much loved and respected Saint Mary’s University PhD candidate has died in Italy.
The body of Blair John, 28, was recovered from the Po River in Turin earlier this week.
“In his time at Saint Mary’s, Blair became known as a leader, and was a well-loved colleague and friend,” university president Rob Summerby-Murray said in a statement.
Lori Francis, acting dean of science at Saint Mary’s, taught John and came to know him well.
“He was a go-to person, a leader and we are all going to miss him and his remarkable contributions,” Francis said in a a transcribed interview forwarded to this newspaper.
“Blair had a way of connecting to others, wanting to learn about them and making them feel comfortable.”
Francis said fellow students called him the heart and soul, the glue and the big brother of the program.
“He was always checking in with people during the hard times and celebrating with them in the good times, and reminding others to celebrate their successes. He worked hard in his classes, pursuing his PhD, and he was going to use his many talents, his degree and his strong academic talents to make a difference in the world.”
Originally from the Bahamas, John came to Saint Mary’s in 2017 with a master’s degree in counselling from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He was working on a doctorate degree in industrial and organizational psychology at Saint Mary’s.
The bodies of John and fellow Bahamian Alrae Ramsey, 29, were pulled from the river this week. John was reportedly in Turin to attend a psychology conference.
His monther, Cathleen Rahming, told Bahamian news outlet The Tribune that she last heard from her son, the oldest of her three children, last week when he texted her early on the morning of Wednesday, May 29. Rahming said he texted to let her know that he was on the train, waiting to go to Turin from London.
“I pray that God gives you great success in your endeavors and I love you, my son,” Rahming said she texted back.
John stopped in London for two days to visit with his sister en route to Turin, Rahming told the news outlet. He was travelling to Turin to present research but after attending the conference Thursday, he did not not show up Friday to present his research paper, his mother said. Neither did he attend the conference Saturday.
Ramsey, a foreign service officer on study leave in Vienna, was reportedly in Turin on a break and the two friends were staying at a bed and breakfast.
Rahming told The Tribune that she discovered something was wrong when Ramsey’s mother called her asking if she had heard from John. The two mothers knew their sons would be together and Rahming said “it was very out of character for them not to keep in touch with their moms.”
Rahming told The Tribune that she finds it hard to believe the deaths were accidental.
“My son is very, very fit,” she said. “He’s a strong swimmer and I know him well enough to know that no, he had no reason to go out this way.”
The Turin police chief told The Tribune that it is not likely the men were victims of foul play but he was awaiting the results of the autopsies and that further investigation would depend on those results.
“My son was a very loving, a very, very focused, a very aggressive, a very affectionate, magnetic person who only wanted to do good and eventually come back home and do good for his country,” Rahming told The Tribune.
She said he studied psychology so he could help people.
Rahming said her daughter is now in Turin and although they are not keen to learn any disturbing details of John’s death, she does want to know what happened to him.
“I need that, not just for my son but for anybody who may even be travelling in that area, they need to know what is going on so we can send out a clarion sound for Bahamians or even people of colour to be careful going in that area,” Rahming said.
She suspects the deaths could be related to a robbery, even to get travel documents, because the two men’s bags are still missing.