In Memory of Helena Ribeiro Halston

This is just a brief note that can hardly do justice to the life of Helena Ribeiro Ralston who, in a remarkably short time and with admirable aplomb, entered our lives and made herself right at home. We met when her father, Professor Tiago de Oliveira, asked if he could invite her to meet with us at the Cambridge Institute for Brazilian Studies. The photo below—taken during her visit with the Institute’s computer—captures the spirit of that meeting.

Helena had a captivating presence: quiet, soft-spoken (at least in two of the four languages she spoke—English and Portuguese), yet strong-minded and independent. We never quite got used to her insistence on striking out for her apartment in Jamaica Plain on the MBTA at night or in the middle of raging snowstorms. Perhaps the assured self-discipline came from years of ballet training or her German side; when Helena said she would meet us at a certain time and place, she would be there exactly on time.

She was most excited about the possibility of serving as a research intern at the Institute working on our survey of Brazilian-studies resources in New England. She had already drafted the profile of UMass/Boston where she was a 1st year student and, while spending the Christmas holidays with her family in Brazil, she was preparing to work on the Suffolk University profile next. We had grand plans for Helena since she had so much talent and was eager to take on more responsibilities. It was a pleasure to invite her to all the events and activities in which we were participating: the Silk Road Concert at Harvard, the Brazil-Today Event on Science without Borders, and the Christmas Meeting of PUBS, the Network of Brazilian Researchers and Students in the Boston area.

Tragically, on January 19, this promising young life was cut short. Helena suffered a fatal accident at the Bragança, São Paulo reservoir where she was enjoying a weekend with friends and family on the eve of her return to Boston.

Words alone cannot describe how inconsolable we have felt since receiving the news from her father. If there is any solace to be found, it came in the following communication from her beloved and bereaved father, Tiago:

Helena estava tão feliz com os estudos em Boston e, principalmente, com os projetos com você no Instituto. Comentou várias vezes  entre amigos e com os familiares a grande amizade que tinha com você especialmente e com os colegas do Instituto.

Meu caro James, você foi responsável por uma importante parcela da grande felicidade e alegria da minha filhinha. Só me conforto que ela nos deixou no momento alto da sua vida, inexplicavelmente curta…

We will always remember the affectionate and smiling young woman in the photograph who accompanied us on our Brazilian adventures in Boston.

May she rest in the arms of peace.

James, Tiago, & Helena Photo on 2013-11-27


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