Deceased January 1, 2005
Early in the morning on January 1, after a three-and-a-half-year battle with breast cancer, Helen Haekyung (Kim) Sawaya died at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. To the last she was brave, funny and honest. She spent her final hours surrounded by family and friends, including Sara Kenamore and Margaret Longbrake.
Helen was an excellent cook who loved to feed people, and her friends were the grateful beneficiaries. Freshman year in Stearns, Helen arrived with a forbidden electric range, a hotpot and dozens of packages of Korean noodles, which she stacked above her desk. She'd ask who was hungry and then she'd add spices and chopped vegetables before serving a midnight snack that was much tastier than anything Valentine had offered earlier. Sophomore year found her barbecuing on two hibachis in the wind and rain on the partially covered concrete walkway between Pond Annex and Pond. A highlight of Junior year was the egg-roll party--Helen put us all to work chopping cabbage and filling egg rolls and we deep-fried them in the common room of our six-man in Davis. Senior year in New Dorm (a real kitchen!) brought elaborate Korean meals, as well as front-lawn barbecues on the hibachi, which was by now rusty and falling apart. Years later when she was living in a Manhattan apartment with a state-of-the-art kitchen, she completed a year-long course at the French Culinary Institute and did an internship at the critically-acclaimed Picholine restaurant.
Beginning with lacrosse (which she had played in high school) and continuing with squash (which she had never played before), Helen was a classic Amherst student-athlete. There are photos of Helen studying while doing stomach crunches, with the notebook balanced between her knees. Whether writing letters during ILS class ("Race and Sex") or discussing relationship problems while working calculus problems, Helen often tried to do more than one thing at a time, and often succeeded. She almost majored in Biology but decided to major in Economics instead. After Amherst she moved to Manhattan where she shared an apartment with Sara, Cheryl Bailey and Kelly Shaughnessy, followed by a house in Brooklyn Heights (1991-93) with Sara, Kelly, Margaret and Tom Cirillo. It was during this time, working at Paine Webber, that she met Fuad Sawaya, her husband-to-be.
After Helen graduated from Harvard Business School, she worked for the Boston Consulting Group. She and Fuad got married in August 1997 in a beautiful setting: the lawn of their new house in Roxbury, Connecticut. Helen gave birth to Philippe in July 1998, and to Alex in June 2000. In 2001, Fuad started his own business, Sawaya Segalas, a consumer-products investment-banking firm. From the beginning, and as the business expanded, Helen served as chief administrative officer and head of human resources, and performed every job that she hadn't yet hired someone to do. She worked hard as a volunteer for International Preschool, serving as president of the Parent Association (professionalizing the position to an unmatchable degree) during the year of her bone-marrow transplant, and attending meetings as treasurer until twelve days before her death. Helen focused her energy in her final months on setting her children's lives in motion so they could continue without her--making lists of their favorite foods, ordering spring clothes early, arranging seamless childcare. One of her last accomplishments was getting her younger son accepted to The Collegiate School (where Philippe is in first grade), an excellent school for boys that goes through twelfth grade. When she received the acceptance letter, she reported that now she could die. Helen was such a determined person, we almost wished he'd been rejected--knowing she would've lived until he was accepted.
Helen is survived by her husband and sons, her mother, her younger brother, her older sister, five nieces and nephews, and many friends from before, during and after her Amherst years. We miss her terribly.
Sara Kenamore Kinnally '90
Jennifer Riggs Vetter '90