Ross Langdon / Elif Yavuz

September 23, 2013

This morning I slammed down the phone hard and burst into tears when told of Ross Langdon’s death in Kenya at the Nairobi mall. The screams that came out were guttural and intensely grief stricken.

He was a much loved local lad. He was a colleague and friend who went out into the world as an architect doing wondrous things. Yet Ross always returned to his family and cultural roots here on the Tasman Peninsula and we all took immense pride in both his architectural abilities and his very generous, positive, and loving personality. There just was no dark side to Ross that I ever saw in the twenty or so years I knew him.

I would always bring up Ross as an example of how a young person — growing up in a rural setting — benefited from this closer connection to nature than could be had at the more “elite” urban schools.

He designed  — pro bono —  an aids hospital in Kenya. Being in his early 30’s he had already given a TED talk. In Uganda he designed and supervised a unique eco-village employing only local labour. There is much, much more. For one so relatively young, the list of achievements is long.

Let me just mention this, however: Ross was about to start on a $35 million museum centered around the earliest fossil record of humanoids walking: two adults and one child. Ironic, because equally tragic is that his partner Elif Yavuz and their unborn child (due in two weeks) were also killed in the massacre. When they visited me at Windgrove a year and a half ago, Elif had just completed a PhD at Harvard; last month she was personally visited by Bill Clinton in her role with the [Bill] Clinton Health Access Initiative based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

A week ago I wrote about how talented people needed to move out of their comfort zones and get involved with changing the world before the ongoing “unraveling” tipped into the No-Return stage. For me, and a big reason for today’s grief, is that Ross and Elif symbolized the sort of people doing the Work. They were agents-of-change in the best sense.

Both had dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful world. Both had so much to offer.

Besides a personal loss for myself, this is a major global loss. This cannot be underestimated or glossed over by the political pundits who will label Ross and Elif and their unborn child as unfortunate casualties in the war on terror.

Yes, I have been punched in the stomach. Yes, I have collapsed emotionally. Yes, I am not feeling particularly happy or even “forgiving”.

But there is another Yes. And this is a bigger “yes” that says — in honour of Ross and Elif — I will eventually pick up the pieces and continue on with the sort of work they themselves were so involved in: bringing about change to a tattered world based — not on religious grounds or economic gain — just a pure love for all of humanity and the natural world.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharad September 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Such selfless service to fellow beings, robbed in the name of someone else’s misunderstanding of what is…..and Who is…! My prayer is that may no soul be filled with such darkness to express itself with such hideous atrocities on any other human being.

Peter, this is Global loss as you have articulated. Thank you for sharing this on your blog… it puts sad perspective on how much work remains on this planet as a result of man’s insatiable need to protect His religion.

Let us all pray for much simpler and definitive guidance.

Gill September 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I have woken in the middle of the night in the UK and was online wondering who might need prayer… yesterday I was in a mall and every step I took I sent love and sympathy to the people who have lost – and to the ones still inside.

There simply are no words for all this but please accept the heartfelt support of a stranger the other side of the world.

Ilze September 24, 2013 at 11:40 am

So tragic and so sad to read this. Your beautiful tribute to this couple has brought their talents and gift to all of us who would have never known/ hear of them if it had not been for this article. So, thanks for sharing. SO hard to understand then how such awful things have to happen to such inspiring individuals. So sorry for your loss and we will keep their families and friends in our prayers in coming to terms with this. Take care.

Wafa September 24, 2013 at 11:19 am

I did not know them but am deeply saddened by this senseless loss, touched by your beautiful tribute and sorry for your loss.

chantale delrue September 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

so senseless… so sorry for your, their family and humanities loss of these beautifull people.

Frances September 24, 2013 at 8:32 am

Words never seem to be enough when these senseless things happen, but I’m sure the families can be immensely proud of the achievements of these two obviously outstanding young people and even though they would have undoubtedly continued to make a huge difference in this world and with their child, it can only be of some comfort that so many people held them in such high esteem. My thoughts go to their families and hope they can take some solace in the way they obviously made such a remarkable contribution to the world. So shocking for all the families of this tragedy, our thoughts are with you all.

Mustafa Osman Turan September 24, 2013 at 8:16 am

This is indeed a very tragic loss! But the story of Ross and Elif will inspire and give courage to many people to transform themselves and thus the world they live in. Many thanks for sharing the memories of these beautiful people… Heartfelt condolences to their family and friends!

Alfred September 24, 2013 at 7:51 am

I did not know them but peter, i so sorry for ur loss. May God bless the work of their hands on earth.

Diane Brokenshire September 24, 2013 at 7:36 am

Just doesn’t make sense. Sending you love today Peter and thanks for your tribute. Sad and sorry the world is so mixed up.

roy schack September 24, 2013 at 7:17 am

beautifully written Peter. I cannot begin to imagine your loss, but I feel it. I hope the rest of the world feels it too.

Holly September 24, 2013 at 6:49 am

This is such a beautiful tribute. Thank you for celebrating their lives and, as you say, not allowing them to become victims.

They have obviously touched the lives of so many people, it is now up to us to pass it forward.

Irfan Parlar September 24, 2013 at 6:30 am

May it make your sorrow easier to bear, knowing there are others who understand and heartfelt sympathy

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
― Albert Einstein

Millakove September 24, 2013 at 4:49 am

A tragic loss, my thoughts are prayers are with their families, found more photos and info about Ross and Elif here–>

Emre Alper September 24, 2013 at 3:47 am

It is so sad, I am in tears. I did not know them. I wish I did. The baby did not have a chance to to help the world to become a better place like his/her parents. Terrible things people do in the name of religion. I am at a loss for words.Thanks for the tribute.

Brandon Van Dyck September 24, 2013 at 3:27 am

Thank you for your beautiful tribute. I’m crying as I write this. Elif and I wrote our dissertations together on the third floor of CGIS in Cambridge, MA. Elif and I would banter, and occasionally Ross would drop in. His warmth and goodness radiated. Rest in peace, dear friends.

Roni Madhvani September 24, 2013 at 2:34 am

An enormous loss for so many who know Ross and for those who did not know him personally too.Ross went out of his way to help us design and supervise the Kazinga Primary school at Mweya Lodge in Uganda and was so eager that we look for other similar projects that he could add value to.As a professional he was brilliant and bought forward refreshing and dynamic concepts and we will always remember Ross being so kind and understanding and always willing to listen first.Ross will be missed by many in Uganda and it is a devastating loss to us all.

Alexandra Topping September 24, 2013 at 12:14 am

Dear Peter, I am so sorry for your loss.

I know this is not really the appropriate place, but I just wanted to say that if any of Ross or Elif’s friends and family want to talk about what they were like, I am writing about them for The Guardian ( If anyone would like to contact me to tell me what they were like, please feel free on: Again my apologies for writing in this space, and my condolences for your loss.

Julie September 23, 2013 at 11:45 pm

So sorry for your loss and my heart breaks to think that these lovely young people lost their lives in my country. I’m so sorry …. and you and their families remain in our thoughts and prayers.

Wim September 23, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Thank you for giving a face to the victims. So they are not just numbers.

Shannon Turkewitz September 23, 2013 at 11:31 pm

A beautiful tribute to two extraordinary young people. All expats, especially those in the field of development, can take heart in your moving words. RIP Ross and Elif.

Janneke H Blomberg September 23, 2013 at 11:16 pm

A tragic tragic loss. Elif and Ross were friends of ours from Dar and they will be truly missed – sweet, warm and talented. We met Elif’s mother in June and she was SO excited about becoming a grandmother (Oma) and I cannot imagine the pain she must be going through. I cannot believe that they are gone just like that – they were two extremely intelligent and genuinely good people. What a tragic loss…

Charles Newman September 23, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I’m so sorry for your loss. He and Elif must be leaving behind so many loved ones.
I was going to meet him at Westgate on Saturday. He had reached out to me a few weeks ago and offered to meet up for lunch to talk architecture in Africa.
I was running late, and sent him a text asking if we could meet a bit later or at another place….
I would love to have met them both. My heart goes out to you and to all that loved them.

Laura Kelley September 23, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Thank you for the words. Please note that Elif worked at the Clinton Health Access Initiative based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Best regards.

ANITA VANESSA September 23, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your beautiful message to Ross, Elif and their unborn child. May they rest in Eternal Peace. We staff who worked with him here in Uganda would like to send messages to their bereaved family, please advise us on what address we can reach them on. Many thanks once again.

Aaron September 23, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Just awful – sending my thoughts out to the ether for a better world. Try not to despair Pete, grieve yes – but they would want you to go on putting love into the world…

Furaha Bishota-Folquet September 23, 2013 at 8:54 pm

What a befitting tribute to a wonderful couple. Ross was my architect and was designing my dream home in Tanzania. He became a very dear friend to me and my family. I was in awe of his brilliance and creativity. He was so full of energy and just seemed to have the most innovative solution to any problem. I remember talking to him just before he left Dar for Nairobi and him enthusiastically telling me how he had just come up with a fantastic solution for a structural issue on the house. He was passionate about his métier and always excited about life. I shall surely miss his contagious smile and vibrant spirit. I am trying to understand a lot of things about life and this terrible loss is one of them. I am devastated but I know Ross and Elif are making waves in the heavens somewhere because that’s just who they were. Pole sana!

Arien van Dijk September 23, 2013 at 8:41 pm

So Sorry for the loss of two wonderful people. Seems so unfair

Annie L September 23, 2013 at 8:15 pm

That is such a beautiful tribute to your friends Peter. I was just saying to a friend the other day that often you only hear about the amazing things people have done in their obituaries – we need to listen to and celebrate people while we can. What an inspiring young couple.

Ben September 23, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Beautiful tribute. So sad, yet you are right, their work must go on.

RIP September 23, 2013 at 7:41 pm

What can be happier than a life made beautiful
with friendship and love and completed in honour

Conan Doyle

John September 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Terrible news. A senseless tragedy and an utter waste of life.

Two almost insignificant points – Elif worked for the Clinton Foundation, not Gates – hence the visit with the president – she lived and worked in Tanzania not Kenya.

Chu, Yi September 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Thank you for the tribute and sincere sorry for your lost. I do not know them but I can feel the pain and I’m sad that the world has just lost them.

Nina Hamilton September 23, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Peter, thank you for your words. I knew Ross as a youngster on the Peninsula. We then reconnected on his first day of architecture school, when we recognised each other after 13 years. Then two kids from a peninsula on an island at the end of the world ended up as architects in Uganda. I have recently returned to the Peninsula, and I took a walk along Pirates Bay this morning to ease the pain after learning of Ross’s departure. His identity and connection to place was beautiful. The knowledge and wisdom that Ross imparted on me while I worked in Uganda is immeasurable. The world has lost a kind, dear friend; an incredible individual; a wonderful humanitarian; a brilliant mind; a gifted teacher; and an amazing architect – before we had time to fully realise Ross’s potential.

amy September 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. I didn’t know Ross and his partner, but I am so sorry for your (and our) loss.

Mumbua September 23, 2013 at 6:19 pm

So sorry for your loss

lisa baumgartner September 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm

thank you for this. i was dear friends to both of them. i live in uganda and elif was one of my closets friends. i was with her the night she met ross. i was with them this past week in nairobi as i was there for some work meetings. i sat with them just this past week and discussed the future and the baby, nagging them to tell me the names they had chosen. they didn’t want to know if the baby was a boy or a girl, so they had chose names for both sexes.

i have no words right now, but thanks for yours.

peace and love,

Jennifer Lennon September 23, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I am so incredibly sorry for your loss Peter, and the loss we must all bear with these senseless killings. May your memories of time spent with Ross and Elif give you strength to pick up the pieces and move forward with the love, inspiration and dedication you always display.
From Jen xx

Felix Holland September 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Ross loved his work. He was a gifted Architect, energetic to the extreme and a brilliant communicator. He achieved a lot, and there was so much more magic to come. I’ve only known him for a few months, but it feels as if I have lost a childhood friend. May their souls rest in peace.

Gren September 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Thats so sad they sounded wonderful people.

Abalo Josephine September 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

How sad and painful for this wonderful young’s man family. I pray and hope that the Lady behind all this attack will be given a much more painful experience.

simone fraser September 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Thank you for your words and background on Ross and Elif. I did not know them but have been touched by this terrible loss. I am a potter with connections to his Mum and I also have two sons and cant begin to imagine the pain of the loss for them.

Deborah Wace September 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Ah, Peter Im so sorry these beautiful, active, awake and committed young people have been taken from us. Im sad your are in such a hard place. In a paradise and yet cut deep by loss of the best amongst us. Hopefully those many people helped and touched by Ross and Elif’s work will pick up the projects and move them forward. Sending you Love.

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