The place underneath a tree where the sun breaks through the leaves, where the wind gently brushes the grass and where the only sound is the rushing water of a nearby stream — that was the place Ian Smith-Christmas ’11 loved the most.
His friends believed that his affinity for nature hinted at a future in environmentalism or conservation.
“When he left college, he was going to do something environmental,” Mathew McMillan ’11, Ian’s freshman roommate and close friend, said.
On Monday afternoon, police discovered Ian’s body in his car at Virginia Beach, the result of an apparent suicide.
His friends, family and the College of William and Mary community are mourning his passing — a college defined by its natural beauty has lost one of its own.
According to Ian’s friends, the young man who arrived at the College in 2007 was not your stereotypical college student.
“Typically, a freshman comes here and looks for the frats,” McMillan said. “With Ian, we could go out on a weekend and just spend hours walking, spend hours talking.”
Together with the close-knit community of Dinwiddie Hall in the Botetourt Complex, Ian and his friends found pleasure in the simpler things.
“He was a really humble person,” Gregory Leichner ’11, Ian’s close friend of three years, said. “Little things used to make him excited. We would do fun things while people went out on weekends. My fondest memories are climbing trees or playing air guitar to Weezer songs … He had a sense of the little things in the world… He loved waking up at dawn and seeing the sun rise.”
Many of those little pleasures remained outdoors, in the secluded mountains and forests of rural Virginia.
His love of nature and playing translated into constant involvement with the College’s Outdoors Club, the Student Environmental Action Coalition and the Botany Club.
“It was a really active part of his life,” McMillan said. “It was a lot of who he was. He really enjoyed being outdoors.”
He also loved geology, and was active within the College’s geology department.
“It was a part that I never really understood,” McMillan said. “[But] he had some sort of drive to do something with those things in his life.”
While Ian made no secret of his love for nature and the outdoors, he also had another passion — the violin.
“He would never really admit it, but he was really good at it,” Leichner said. “He did Nordic Folk Music Ensemble and the Appalachian Music Ensemble.”
That love of music from different cultures also influenced his dreams of traveling the world.
“We did winter camping,” Leichner said. “He made a trip to Russia; he went to Wales.”
It was Ian’s unique personality and interests that made him special to those who knew him.
“A really good way of thinking about him is as not one to follow the typical path,” McMillan said.
For those who knew him, the sunrises and long walks will be difficult to forget.
The natural places throughout campus that meant so much to him now have deep meanings to his friends as well.
“I don’t think any of us are going to forget Ian Smith-Christmas,” McMillan said. “There are certain things about campus, certain places that I will never be able to think about without thinking of him.”
Although three years separated the Dinwiddie hallmates from their first college memories together, Monday’s tragic events have rekindled old friendships.
“This event was enough to bring these people back together,” McMillan said. “My memory of him is as a wide-eyed freshman.”
For Leichner, those memories will always bring him back to that serene, peaceful spot that Ian loved.
“He was someone I felt I could talk to … He was about making your own fun in your own way of life, and doing what you really loved,” Leichner said. “He taught me that as my best friend.”