Sorry 2016, but you suck in so many ways so far.. 😦 Some days ago, we said goodbye to an esteemed colleague, friend and mentor, Martin Wolpers, and now this. It seems like someone is in need of some “stars” (or rock stars if you will), up there. I know we certainly needed them as they have been a great source of inspiration as well as our guiding beacons for so many years.
Erik Duval has been so many things for so many people. He has affected willingly but also without him knowing, the lives and professional paths of colleagues and researchers worldwide. And he will always be our rock star for that. For me, and this is something I owe to confess, he has been the only reason why I still think that my domain of research, metadata, is cool. Starting out my PhD in 2009, I found myself in Terchova for the JTEL Summer School. Among the other PhD candidates, I was maybe the only one that was doing a PhD on metadata. I felt really lonely and isolated with all the PLEs, Webquests, etc., going around and other related topics. And then, this session took place where the coolest man in the event was talking about metadata! This was it… I never looked back and still don’t. Metadata rules! 😉
Some time after that we met in Budapest for a winter school on repositories, metadata, the works! An amazing experience and a terrifying one, when I stood up and presented a session with him sitting right there along with Frans Van Assche (talk about being nervous). One year later, we met again in Ohrid, FYROM for the next Summer School and he was there again. One afternoon, we decided that it would be nice to play a bit of football, PhD Tutors VS PhD Students, in a small tennis court the hotel had (yes, football in a tennis court – having a PhD or trying to get one doesn’t mean you always make the best decisions in life!). Erik was on the team of the supervisors and he was quite good as well. It was amazing to me to see how open he was and how little he would care about his image as a professor and whatnot, at the time when all the professors I knew where nothing like that. Playing football? With PhD students? In shorts? Come on… Anyway, we played and played and some time after, Erik got away with a nasty cut cause of some loose ball that hit him on his sunglasses. And he was super cool about it also. He just put something on it and continued to play a bit more. And as for myself, I was the second one to get injured as I was tackled (clean tackling though) to the ground by a fellow student (thanks Gonzalo!), nearly breaking my arm. It was a nice game! 😉
After that, we met again in Banff, Calgary in 2011 for the 1st ever Learning Analytics Conference. I was there on my own, knowing few if any at all, of the participants and I was killing some time before the conference, sitting in the restaurant of the venue. He was there with his daughter, Hannah, and I remember how friendly he was when our eyes met, inviting me to dine with them and Xavier Ochoa, another one of my favorite metadata people! Cannot remember much from this dinner as I was somewhat amazed, thrilled and a bit scared to be having dinner with him, but it was one of these life-changing experiences discussing about work, life and everything.
We met frequently the upcoming years on an occasion or two, until he had to step down due to his illness. I kept reading each one of his posts, looking to find a glimmer of hope. He has been such a bright example facing all of this in such a way. Being so open and cool about it. I could not expect less. I woke up yesterday morning and saw the post from a friend. I was numb. I still am. I see myself as rather emotional but was not expecting that it would hit me so hard. I decided to put my thoughts up here, partly to be able to deal with it and partly to let everyone know how f*** awesome Prof. Erik Duval has been, even in little things. I bid you farewell, in a mix of teary smiles or smiling tears. You have always been our piano man, getting all of us to dance and sing along to whatever tune you were playing. Thank you for being around.
Till we meet again, metadata man.