After surviving with cancer for over 12 years, a late professor of physics told his wife on Thanksgiving: “Let me go. I am content to die.”
Gabriele Giuliani, 59, died Nov. 22 in his West Lafayette home. Originally from Ascoli Piceno, Italy, Giuliani began his study of physics at the Scuola Normale in Pisa. He served as a professor here for nearly 30 years after joining Purdue’s faculty in 1984. He is survived by his wife, three children, two siblings and mother.
Although it’s a difficult situation, his wife, Pamela Wilhelm-Giuliani, said she’s put at ease knowing her husband lived the way he wanted to until his death.
“After he was diagnosed and when he continuously beat the odds, he was always insistent on continuing to live,” she said. “(He) absolutely refused to live dying.”
And he didn’t. Even throughout many trips to and from the hospital, Wilhelm-Giuliani said her husband continued to fulfill his various passions, including physics, soccer, music, Formula One racing and, of course, his family.
His daughter, Daniela, 22, said her father lived up to this idea every day. She’s been telling friends a story that illustrates his will to “squeeze as much out of life as possible,” as her mom described it.
“After his first surgery many years ago, he lost his kidney,” Daniela said. “Even though the doctors told him, ‘You’re not allowed to play soccer; you can’t go racing,’ he refused and ended up building himself a plastic vest so he could still go out and play soccer.”
When his doctors expressed concern, Daniela said her father replied, “You can’t stop me from doing the things I love.”
Gabriele’s daughter said growing up, he was pretty tough on his three children – always setting his expectations high.
“I didn’t always understand it,” Daniela said, “but now that I’m older, I appreciate it because I’ve become a better person than I would’ve expected myself to be. It was worth it.”
Much to her father’s pride, Daniela has become the youngest head soccer coach for a women’s club team in the New York area. Gabriele’s other daughter is a student at Indiana University, and his son is following him by studying physics as a Purdue freshman.
Nick Giordano, head of the physics department and longtime friend of Gabriele, said just as Gabriele pushed his children to strive for excellence, he did the same with the physics department.
“He was an incredibly passionate person,” Giordano said, “and he pushed all of us to live up to the highest standard.”
Giordano said even though many people knew Gabriele was fighting cancer, it was still a shock to hear of his death.
Among goals such as writing a book, which he achieved, and advancing his knowledge in physics, Gabriele’s main goal was to survive long enough to see his children enter adulthood. Before his death, Wilhelm-Giuliani said her husband expressed acceptance to her.
“He told me, ‘If somebody would’ve offered me this 12 years ago,’” she remembered him saying, “’I would’ve signed on the dotted line in a minute to be able to live as well as I did for these 12 years.’”
There will be a memorial service for Gabriele from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday in the Stewart Center, Room 214. In lieu of flowers, his family would prefer funds to be donated to either the graduate student’s prize fund in the physics department or to the fund for his own children’s education.