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Popular Zoological Society employee dies of cancer

Royal Gazette
Friday, September 28, 2012

By Tim Smith
Published September 28 at 6:00 am

Bermuda Zoological Society’s educational boat
captain Tim Hasselbring with his daughter Havilland.
Mr Hasselbring died of cancer this week.

Friends and family yesterday paid tribute to Bermuda Zoological Society’s educational boat captain Tim Hasselbring, who has died from cancer aged 38.

Mr Hasselbring, an environmentalist and entrepreneur, was known for his infectious enthusiasm for marine life and passed his knowledge to vast numbers of young people through BZS’s vessel Endurance.

He was also a devoted family man to wife Nadia Aguiar-Hasselbring and 15-month-old daughter Havilland; he was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in late 2010, shortly after Nadia fell pregnant with Havilland.

Mr Hasselbring died on Saturday, after the cancer spread to his brain, but friends described his spirit in the face of adversity as inspirational.

Mrs Aguiar-Hasselbring, an author, yesterday spoke of her devastation at losing “the funniest person I knew ... a generous friend and a profoundly devoted and loving husband”.

Endurance aims to provide a link between conservation research and education; Mr Hasselbring developed programmes for it since it was launched in 2008.

Principal curator Ian Walker stated: “From the beginning, Tim threw himself into his job with devotion, intelligence and a passion for educating people, especially children, about Bermuda’s natural history and environment.

“As a result, students and adults got an unprecedented and dynamic understanding of our marine environment as Tim brought science alive for so many people each year.

“Captain Tim was a very enthusiastic cheerful person with an infectious positivity — it was impossible not to get excited and involved in something when Tim was around.

“Whether it was trips to North Rock with a class of schoolchildren or building a giant lighted octopus for the Christmas Boat Parade, Tim gave it his all and brought a crowd of happy people along with him.”

Mr Hasselbring developed his love for marine life while growing up in St David’s after moving to Bermuda from Japan with his family aged seven.

Mrs Aguiar-Hasselbring said: “By all accounts he spent most of his time peering into tide pools. In almost every childhood picture he’s holding a creature.

“Tim loved Bermuda and, aside from his years at university, where he studied biology, he remained here and has always been deeply, elementally connected with the natural world.”

Describing her husband as a man who “moved at speed”, she said: “He didn’t stroll or saunter, he bounded. He leaped from docks onto boats and took stairs four at a time with his great long legs.

“His mind was even faster than his body. He was a prodigious reader and had a wonderful ear for language. He was a cook, a carpenter, a boat captain, an artist, an inventor.

“A friend once said that he didn’t think there was a single thing that Tim wouldn’t be good at. But he was a modest person.

“His love of learning and the satisfaction he took from work were not tied to ego or ambition — they were pure.

“He was the funniest person I knew, and the best storyteller. He was a generous friend and a profoundly devoted and loving husband.”

On his relationship with Havilland, she said: “Tim was utterly besotted with her. It was mutual. They could just sit there and beam at each other.

“No one could make her giggle like he could, no one could make as many funny faces, do as many silly voices for her puppets, or console her so reassuringly when she cried.

“Tim said that one of the most wonderful things that he had ever done in his life was to rock his little baby to sleep at night.

“Tim was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in late 2010. Until May, when the cancer spread to his brain, despite ongoing chemotherapy treatment, he continued to work and to live a full, rich, and remarkable life.

“The enormity of his loss is devastating to us, and it is hard to imagine the future without him, but a spirit as strong and as well-loved as Tim’s will always be with us, surrounding us like the sea that was so much a part of him.”

Development officer Lynda Johnson, who shared an office with Mr Hasselbring, said: “He would bound through the door and you could hear him coming before he reached the office.

“He would come in and flop down and immediately, no matter the type of mood you were in, it was lifted considerably by Tim’s happy attitude.

“I have never seen anyone braver. He taught me how to be brave and he’s also taught me how to make the most of life.

“He faced cancer head on. He had chemotherapy treatment but he would be back at work and face the next round of treatment.

“To be diagnosed with this at 36, I do not know how he did it. And yet you would look in his eyes and there was nothing fake.

“You never saw sadness and fear in his eyes. He was living life and fighting cancer.”

Jeff Manson worked alongside Mr Hasselbring on a project designed to capture energy from the ocean to reduce Bermuda’s reliance on fossil fuel.

Mr Manson said: “Tim had an unfaltering commitment to and appreciation for the natural environment, especially the sea.

“His insatiable appetite for intellectual curiosity drew him to marine conservation and later to become a founder of the Bermuda Shark Project and Bermuda Wave Energy Project — local projects related to conservation and renewable energy.

“He was a man of outstanding character and integrity with boundless energy and enthusiasm for life, family and Bermuda.

“He will be sadly missed by me, friends, family and the many people who were fortunate to know him.”

An education fund for Havilland has been set up in Mr Hasselbring’s memory. HSBC account number: 002-111136-013, or PO Box FL 145, Flatts, FLBX.