Editor’s Note: Ann Nelson died Aug. 4 after slipping off a path while hiking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. She was a mother of two, Sierra and Gabe, and wife of David Kaplan, a fellow UW physics professor. Ann was a world-renowned physicist, outspoken advocate for diversity in the science professions, more than 20-year active member of Seattle’s Mountaineers Club, and remembered by many who crossed her path as “a very kind person who really stood up for people who were marginalized.”
Her daughter, Sierra, posted this tribute to her mom on Facebook; we are republishing it here for all of us moms wondering what gifts we might give our daughters:
You taught me to appreciate every flower, every tree and every berry.
You taught me a love for reading and complex characters.
You taught me an openness to the world and a love for learning languages and traveling. I’ll always admire your lack of assumptions or judgment in new places.
I’ll miss your insights about people and the ironic things they do.
I’ll miss being silly with you and laughing at the world and ourselves.
I’ll miss watching you throw yourself into every new passion. I’ll miss your enthusiasm when I became excited about something new.
You gave me a love for creativity and art, even though you laughed at me when I got tired at museums and leaned on you.
You showed me the joy of eating food you’ve grown or picked yourself, and the joy of trying new recipes and new flavors.
You showed me how to be a proud nerd and show your love for nerdy fandom unapologetically.
You taught me how to feel strong and yet not hard. You made me feel powerful and confident without the validation of others.
You taught me it’s fine to answer a question wrong in class, and that there’s nothing embarrassing about failure.
You led by example, showing me how to be a woman who isn’t bothered by societal expectations or concerned with body image and beauty. You complimented me by telling me I was strong and healthy.
You cared so deeply about many issues but never centered yourself. You were always brave in showing what you believed in and practiced what you preached. You used your position of power and reputation to lift others up, and never worried about being too outspoken.
You showed me people are never done learning, and wanted me to help you understand new issues and activism today.
You taught me a love for science and asking questions, and always encouraged my curiosity about every detail.
You taught me about black holes and supernovas how many quarks there are in the universe, and about the weak force.
You taught me how time works and why entropy means we can never go backwards.
You gave me a love for the unknown, and the beauty in the questions we haven’t solved yet.
You taught me a love for hiking and climbing, reaching new summits, cooking around campfires, skinny dipping in freezing lakes and sliding down glaciers.
You taught me how to be careful and prepared, never taking unnecessary risks.
But you also taught me that some calculated risks are worth it and that we can never prepare for everything. You told me people fall and die at the parts of climbs that aren’t scary, because that’s when we’re not being as careful. And you told me that if you died hiking I should be comforted knowing you died doing what you love.
You showed me how to be a mom. You were loving and supportive but always gave me space so I could try on my own and fall down sometimes.
You were there whenever I needed you and made me feel that every moment you spent with me was special. Yet you lived your own life and accomplished so much. I don’t know how you did it without sacrificing anything.
I am so proud to be your daughter. I know you’ll always be with me.