General Eleftherios and Mrs. Roula Kanellakis of Athens have established a $400,000 graduate fellowship fund at MIT to honor the memory and accomplishments of their son, Paris, who with his wife and two children was killed in a plane crash in Cali, Colombia in 1995.
Paris Kanellakis, who did undergraduate work at the University of Athens, earned the SM from MIT in electrical engineering and computer science in 1978 and the PhD in 1982. At the time of his death he was a member of the computer science faculty at Brown University.
"We decided to give this gift to MIT because we want to keep the memory of our son alive," Mrs. Kanellakis said. "We want to give help to Greek students to follow the steps of our son." Paris Kanellakis, who was 42 at the time of his death, was an only child.
His parents want the Paris Kanellakis Fellowship Fund to be used to support the studies of a Greek graduate student or an American student of Greek descent in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).
"Generations of Greek students will benefit from the great humanity displayed by General and Mrs. Kanellakis," said President Charles M. Vest. "They have drawn from a deep personal tragedy to create new opportunities at MIT for bright young men and women of Greek heritage."
"This fund is a wonderful thing," says Professor John Guttag, head of EECS. "To be able to do something in Paris's memory that would be meaningful to him and that will help Greek students is great. Paris was a very talented computer scientist. He was a personable, engaging fellow, full of life and humor. It was a tremendous loss."
"Paris was a completely loveable guy. He was utterly without pretense and he also was a talented researcher. There was a reaction throughout the field that a really special person was lost," said Professor Albert Meyer of EECS.
Professor Paul Sclavounos, who was best man at Paris's wedding and godfather to his older child, said, "We have all lost a wonderful person, a colleague, and I have lost a childhood friend. He was full of life and energy... He had an engaging and confident personality, a sense of humor and a touch of sophistication."
Dr. Kanellakis was known in the computer science community as founder of the area of constrained databases. He held the Faculty Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and in 1987 he received the IBM Faculty Development Award. After his death, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) honored him by instituting the Paris Kanellakis ACM Award, a prize given annually to distinguished computer scientists worldwide. Recent awards were given to computer scientists who have made contributions to the fields of cryptography and data compression, significant areas in the Internet era.
Paris Kanellakis's family was among the 160 passengers and crew members who died when their jet crashed into the Andes during its approach to Cali Airport. Six people survived. He reportedly told his secretary the day before the crash, "You never know how long you have on this earth, so you've got to be with your family whenever you can."
Dr. Kanellakis and his wife, Dr. Maria-Teresa Otoya, who also worked at Brown as a psychologist, met while they were doing graduate work in Cambridge. The couple was making their annual holiday trip to Colombia with their children Alexandra, 7, and Stephanos, 4, to visit her relatives when they died.
"The kind of friendship Paris and I developed over the years was something that he and I cherished a lot," Professor Sclavounos said. "He was one of the rare, irreplacable friends in life that you can count on one hand."
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 22).