Memories of junior Brian G. Anderson

Recalling the life of ‘a young man who was so spectacularly gifted’

At Brian G. Anderson ’13’s memorial service in Minnesota on Saturday, friends and family agreed on certain things about the MIT junior: He was fearless and strong. He was brilliant and loved MIT. He was frequently barefoot and in trees — often at the same time.

“He was a full-speed-ahead, pedal-to-the-metal type of guy,” his mother, Cecilia Anderson, said at the memorial service. “He was quick as a jackrabbit: both physically and mentally gifted. He loved outwitting people, and he had an indomitable spirit. There was nothing he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it.”

Anderson, 21, whose body was found Feb. 20 in his Next House dorm room, was a management (Course 15) major and a member of the MIT wrestling team.

Brian Gregory Anderson was born Nov. 28, 1990, in Redwood Falls, Minn., the youngest of three sons of Gregory and Cecilia Anderson. Weighing 9 lbs., 6 oz., at birth, he looked like he “had just gone the distance in a boxing match,” his brother Tom said. “I always knew [he was] going to be tough.”

When his two brothers, five and eight years older, invited friends over to play tackle football, Anderson never hesitated to join in. “Although he was the little bro, it soon became clear that there was nothing little or timid about him,” his brother Ray said. “He would get riled up if someone told him he couldn’t accomplish something, particularly if that someone was an older brother.”

Silos, skydiving and scuba

From a young age, Anderson showed a remarkable lack of fear of heights. While still a preschooler, he climbed to the top of a silo on the family’s Minnesota farm, waving and yelling hello to his startled grandmother below. At age 15, he joined his parents and brothers on a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon.

As a child, Anderson “climbed more trees than anyone else I know,” Tom Anderson said. He was particularly fond of doing so barefoot — and of walking barefoot on gravel roads and even through ice and snow. “Your feet were somehow numb to every surface you walked on,” Tom Anderson noted at his brother’s memorial service. “You just were really never a sock person.”

Anderson’s interest in heights continued: He was planning to take skydiving lessons this summer, even convincing his father to join him. “He had no fear of anything or anybody,” Cecilia Anderson said.

During his many years as a Boy Scout — culminating in earning the rank of Eagle Scout in 2009, and in winning the coveted “Triple Crown” for attending all three of the Boy Scouts’ national camps — Anderson went to a different extreme: He introduced scuba training to Troop 70, leading the troop to participate in 11 deep-sea dives at the National Boy Scout Camp in the Florida Keys.

“The twinkle in his eye”

As Anderson grew older, his family and friends observed the blossoming of his intellect and curiosity. At his memorial service, Pastor Pari Bailey of Grace Lutheran Church in Belview, Minn., described first meeting him as a student in her confirmation class. As Bailey explained various atonement theologies, the high-school sophomore chimed in with a sophisticated question contrasting the views of Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox churches on the matter.

“My mouth fell open,” Bailey recalled. “And as I began to respond to this incredibly intelligent question … I caught the twinkle in his eye. Brian had just taken my measure and let me know three things without actually coming right out and saying them. One, he was brilliant. Two, he was doing some serious extracurricular reading. Three, he was not opposed to yanking the pastor’s chain a bit.”

By this time, Anderson had already set his sights on MIT. At Saturday’s memorial service, Bailey read from the letter of recommendation that she ultimately wrote on his behalf: “He looks me in the eye. He is kind to children. He has the respect of his peers.”

The lure of MIT

Anderson’s interest in MIT took root early, in seventh grade — although he didn’t confide this to his parents for another three years. He was attracted to the Institute, his father said, by “the level of people he’d be dealing with.”

“He knew he needed to get away” from rural Minnesota, his mother added. “He needed a lot of intellectual stimulus.”

So determined was Anderson to gain acceptance to MIT that he took the ACT four times, hoping to nudge his scores upward. During this time, Gregory and Cecilia Anderson noted, their son also taught himself German, which wasn’t offered in the schools around Redwood Falls.

Anderson was elated upon winning early acceptance to MIT midway through his senior year at Redwood Valley High School, his mother recalled. “That night in December 2008 had him high-fiving everyone in the house; he was so happy,” Cecilia Anderson said.

Eager to achieve

Anderson entered MIT planning to study brain and cognitive science. He ultimately switched to management, his parents said, because he was driven to achieve things quickly, in a field that wouldn’t require many years of graduate school.

At MIT, Anderson was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and spent a spring break building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Jacksonville, Fla. He was also a three-year member of MIT’s wrestling team, continuing in the sport he had grown to love in high school — and in which he had persisted following two anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, during his junior year of high school and his sophomore year at MIT.

During his first year at MIT, the team won the 2010 National Collegiate Wrestling Association Division II National Championship. Tom Layte, coach of MIT’s wrestling team — who first encountered Anderson as a high-school sophomore attending a summer wrestling camp at Augsburg College in Minneapolis — described Anderson as having a strong work ethic and a great sense of humor. He was also, Layte said, a team player, dedicated, friendly and polite.

“Everyone on the team adored Brian,” Layte said. “He was not the quickest or most technical wrestler, but he was methodical and strong and felt like you were wrestling with a bear.”

In January, Anderson’s parents spent several weeks on the East Coast, following him to various wrestling matches.

“Brian was so happy,” his father said. “He loved MIT. He worked hard to handle both the tough academics and the physical training for the small but exceptional wrestling program. It didn’t matter how much bigger or how smart someone was, Brian was determined to keep up with them.”

Anderson is survived by his parents, Gregory and Cecilia, of Redwood Falls, Minn.; brothers Raymond, of Reedley, Calif., and Thomas, of Anoka, Minn.; grandparents Betty Prahl of Redwood Falls, Minn., and George and Nancy Kroening of Brooklyn Park, Minn.; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.

MIT will hold a memorial service commemorating the life of Brian G. Anderson on Saturday, March 17, at 4 p.m. in the MIT Chapel. A reception will follow in Building W11.

Reprinted with the permission of MIT News.