Stephen Rodrigues remembered as thoughtful, ‘gentle soul’

Stephen Rodrigues’ loved ones remember him in many ways: as a lover of the Earth, a thoughtful poet, a late-night conversationalist and, in the words of friend Michaela Lewis ’13, a “gentle soul.”

“Stephen was an exuberant and creative spirit with an amazing laugh, tremendous curiosity, a playful and loving heart and an encyclopedic knowledge of music, geology and zoology,” Zohar Atkins ’10, a former hall- and housemate, wrote in an email to The Herald.

Rodrigues, 26, came to Brown in 2006 but took multiple leaves of absence. He was enrolled in classes at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design as recently as last year.

Rodrigues, who was studying geology and biology, was on leave again and living in Providence when he died late last month. President Christina Paxson first announced his death in a community-wide email.


‘Smart with words and smart with people’

“There was this mystical world that I associate with his mind,” said Stephanie Hudon, a friend who met Rodrigues in November while living in Rhode Island. Meeting during “transitional periods” in both of their lives, the two connected quickly, she said. They often met for ginger tea on Wickenden Street to discuss books, music and family.

Rodrigues had a “contagious” energy, she said. “It doesn’t make sense that he’s not a physical person anymore. He’s still a person to me.”

Hudon said the joy in Rodrigues’ voice when he talked about things he loved was striking. “He was so good with words.”

Even his Facebook messages were eloquently phrased — instead of writing a simple “Hey, how are you?” he would write, “I would be much obliged if you could drop me a line soon,” she added.

“He wrote poetry that was just unbelievable,” said Mikala Murphy, a friend who met Rodrigues in 2011 when they both attended the University of California at Irvine and carpooled together.

They formed a weekly art group where they, along with a few others, would share paintings and poetry, she said. “He was honestly the most brilliant person I’ve ever met. He was book smart and intuitively smart, smart with words and smart with people.”

Rodrigues wrote poetry that “resonated,” said Lewis, who knew Rodrigues through Finlandia, the co-op on Waterman Street. “There was silence between his words, like he was considering every one of them.”

“He was a person to sit quietly with. He was a deep night owl, a caring presence to talk to and really connect with,” she added, recalling long, late-night conversations about literature and poetry at the dining table over tea.

“I can still see images of Stephen with his curly hair in a comfy Brown sweater, sitting around the Findy table,” Lewis said. “I miss him.”


Fascinated by the world

Rodrigues was curious about the world, said friend Mindy Phillips ’10. “He found the world intriguing and fascinating. He loved geology and the environment — he loved the way things worked.”

Phillips and Rodrigues lived across the hall from one another in South Wayland their first year. They ate meals at the Sharpe Refectory, visited Newport, attended an orchestra concert and went to their first yoga class together, she said. “We knew each other in a time filled with exploration.”

Rodrigues, whose passions included nature and the ocean, would “never even hurt a fly,” Murphy said, recalling that he loved his animal books while taking biology at UC-Irvine.

At Rodrigues’ celebration of life in July — a memorial service held shortly after his death — his family spoke of this love for the ocean, Hudon said.

His brother, Tom Rodrigues, picked an E. E. Cummings quote to include in the pamphlet: “For whatever we lose (like a you or me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”

“It is the perfect Stephen quote,” Hudon said. “He loved the ocean.”


‘Thoroughly human’

When Phillips returned to Providence for a visit in May, she met Rodrigues for breakfast at Loui’s and saw him in person for the first time since he left Brown temporarily in 2008.

“He said that Brown had been really supportive of him taking time off and that was something he was proud of,” she said, adding that he planned to finish his degree.

Rodrigues enjoyed living a “non-linear lifestyle,” Hudon said. He didn’t know many people when he was taking classes last fall at Brown and RISD, because time had passed and his original class had graduated, but he loved the Providence area, she said. “He liked living on the fringe of things.”

Rodrigues was a complex person, Lewis said. “Interacting with Stephen taught me something about being human — he was thoroughly human.”

The loss of his brilliance is a loss for the world, Murphy said. “Stephen could have changed the world,” she said. “And he did for people who knew him.”

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Copyright 2018