Slain Hopkins student eulogized Family, friends recall enthusiasm

April 16, 1996|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. -- Remembered through the classical music he adored and the recollections of the people who adored him, slain Johns Hopkins University student Rex Tzi-Miong Chao was memorialized yesterday as a young man who fervently pursued his passions.

Mr. Chao, a 19-year-old sophomore at the Baltimore university, was shot to death Wednesday on the Hopkins campus. Hopkins senior Robert J. Harwood, a former friend of Mr. Chao, was arrested minutes after the shooting and has been charged with murder.

Two buses leaving Baltimore in the early morning hours yesterday brought Hopkins undergraduates to the funeral ceremony.

The people who eulogized Mr. Chao here at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, where he had been baptized and confirmed, spoke of his exuberance. Mr. Chao was the only child of Robert and Rosetta Chao, two first-generation Americans who had made their family home in this prosperous New York City suburb along the northern ridge of Long Island.

"Nothing was ever half-hearted with him," said Philip M. Pidot, a friend of Mr. Chao. "Not with his music, his family, his school, his friends."

Mr. Chao's funeral brought together people from different realms of his life, as relatives, family friends and fellow congregants from Port Washington were joined by teachers and classmates from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Hopkins. About 275 people crowded the pews and lined the back walls of the small church. The death, which has received as heavy news coverage in Long Island as it has in Maryland, also drew reporters from a Chinese-language daily newspaper with a reach beyond New York.

Intellectually curious and a person who enjoyed a good argument, Mr. Chao took particular joy in music and politics, his friends said. An international studies major who intended to apply to law schools, he had worked on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican, and for the unsuccessful Maryland gubernatorial bid of Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Minutes before his death, Mr. Chao had been elected chairman of the campus chapter of College Republicans. He stepped out of Hopkins' Shaffer Hall into the cool night air and was walking away with his girlfriend, Suzanne Hubbard, but fell into an argument with Mr. Harwood, a former Hopkins Republican leader.

The two men, once close friends, had quarreled bitterly before, and Mr. Chao's complaints led campus administrators to require that Mr. Harwood give notice whenever he was returning to campus. Mr. Harwood, who had completed enough credits to graduate, had returned to campus Wednesday from his Rhode Island home in an unsuccessful bid to prevent Mr. Chao's election to the Republican office, other students said last week.

After an exchange of angry words, police said, Mr. Harwood shot Mr. Chao, stood over his body and shot him a second time.

Ms. Hubbard offered a tribute yesterday at the funeral with a steady voice and ready smile. Mr. Chao sometimes spoke hyperbolically about himself, half in jest, she recalled. He was certain he would do well as leader of the College Republicans, she said, because it involved a lot of speechmaking.

Ms. Hubbard was composed until she recounted how she met Mr. Chao in a student orchestra at Hopkins. "He made me really happy," she said, after weeping softly. "I'm really going to miss him."

Mr. Chao had played music many times at St. Stephen's church, where his father is a lay minister. And music returned to St. Stephen's yesterday in tribute. A group of Andover music instructors, several his former teachers, performed classical pieces,including one by Mendelssohn, whose work Mr. Chao had favored.

The rector of St. Stephen's, the Rev. W. Kurt von Roeschlaub, remembered Mr. Chao as a youth who asked more questions than the rest of his confirmation class combined. Mr. Chao pressed the minister on questions of God and justice, and finally Mr. von Roeschlaub gave his young student a book to read. The book included a fable in which people seeking a hero were told they would know him because he would be walking down the street whistling like two Baltimore Orioles -- at minor third intervals.

Mr. von Roeschlaub said he encountered Mr. Chao walking across a small quadrangle on church grounds a few weeks and was astounded. The young man, eager to show his enthusiasm for the book and his mastery of music, jammed two fingers in his mouth and started to do what the book said a hero would do: whistle at minor third intervals.

"Because we love," Mr. von Roeschlaub said, "we permit risk in our lives. This is God at his greatest and us at our best. We risk, in loving, grieving. But there was no one who wasn't changed by our hero, who could whistle like two Baltimore Orioles."

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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