I got the news this morning that Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne has died, and it’s hard to grasp.

The first difficulty concerns how young he was - roughly my age. Compounding this is the fact that he was the healthiest man in my cohort. His fitness was legendary: a Marine veteran who biked to work nearly every day of the year, who relished long and uncomfortable cross-country races. Many dark, cold, pre-dawns over the past few years I’d lace up my running shoes, miserable as I slogged up the hill past UVM, only to find Jarlath and his workout group already on the track, doing wind sprints in weighted vests. The man inspired a joyful kind of dedication.


But it’s also hard to grasp how his loss will be felt among the geographers in his orbit. His impact on the mapping community in Vermont was monumental - but over the years, I’ve come to learn how widely he was known beyond the confines of our little province. He spoke at national and international conferences, evangelizing emergency preparedness through geospatial technology. Jarlath and his team from the UVM Spatial Analysis Lab provided crucial intelligence to our state in times of natural disaster, again and again. And his personal impact as a colleague and collaborator is perhaps dwarfed by the entire generation of scientists, operators, and engineers he trained and inspired.


For a man as busy as he was, I was always amazed at how much time Jarlath found to give at all levels. He was always happy to package up and pass along key datasets, no matter how ultimately tiny the project. He once showed up with his kids - and motivating teenagers cannot be the least of his skills - to attend a talk I gave about local maps, on an icy winter day when nobody had any business getting off the couch. I don’t think I properly conveyed to him how much that meant to me at the time.

On that note, I last saw Jarlath on Christmas Eve, walking down Church Street in Burlington with his family under the lights of the city tree. He gave a big, friendly “hello”, and I - distracted by an ongoing monologue from one of my kids - failed to recognize him until he had gone past, and my wife pointed out who it was. I yelled “Merry Christmas” down the street, a bit too late. It’s a little thing to be regretful of, but I will certainly feel the missed opportunity for awhile to come. And he’ll be missed by so many.

Thank your heroes - recognize them - while they’re still alive to hear it. I wish I’d thanked Jarlath more.