On Hike, A Life Is Cut Short

Grad student was ‘kind of person you only meet once in a lifetime,’ husband says

Just a few hours before the freak accident that claimed her life, recently married Harvard graduate student Stine Rossel chatted with her husband about having children and stopped occasionally on the New Hampshire hiking trail to playfully throw leaves at her husband.

“We were just so happy that day,” her husband, Brian M. Wood, also a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, recalled in an interview yesterday. “She was just enjoying the nature and everything was so beautiful.”

The afternoon hike turned unimaginably tragic. A log on which the couple was sitting broke loose, sending the pair tumbling down a steep hill. As they fell, the log rolled over them, killing Rossel.

The sudden death of Rossel, 32, just two months after her wedding and a month before she was to receive her doctorate in anthropology, left colleagues and friends devastated.

“Stine was the kind of beautiful that radiated from inside out,” said fellow archaeology graduate student Gideon Hartman. “She would open the door, and smile at you and suddenly, your whole day was made right.”

Wood met Rossel in the fall of 2004, when he first glimpsed her outside a lecture room in Peabody Museum.

“I looked into her eyes and there was just this light glowing about her,” Wood said. “I had to tear my eyes away or I would have just kept staring at her like a crazy person.”

The couple didn’t go on their first date until a year later, when Wood took Rossel on a 35-mile bike ride to Walden Pond.

That fall, Wood and Rossel enjoyed a blissful courtship, often taking short breaks from work together in the Peabody Museum, where both had offices on the second floor.

“She would send me messages telling me to meet her in different parts of the museum,” Wood said. “So I would go find the exhibit she mentioned, and we’d kiss.”

Wood and Rossel maintained their relationship when he traveled to Tanzania. The pair found creative ways to keep in touch.

“She would call me, and I would climb to the tops of trees to get reception,” Wood said. “We also wrote each other a hundred letters in those months.”

Wood proposed to Rossel when she came to visit him in Tanzania, and the two moved to Copenhagen after he completed his field work. They were married this August in Scandinavia at the estate of Karen Blixen, the author of the memoir “Out of Africa.”

Wood was planning to move to Denmark permanently in January after finishing his last semester at Harvard and hoped to find a position at the University of Copenhagen, where Rossel held an assistant professorship.

“We were going to be infinitely happy,” Wood said. “You couldn’t be anything but happy when you were with Stine.”

Many of Rossel’s colleagues also praised her cheerfulness and sense of humor. Fellow graduate student Zinovi Matskevich, who shared an office with Rossel and conducted fieldwork with her in the country of Georgia years before she attended Harvard, said that Rossel brought joy to all who knew her. “She created festivals from the most boring tasks,” he said.

Matskevich recalled Rossel composing songs about archaeological distribution patterns—though he said that she attempted to be more solemn at times.

“She decided that she needed to be more serious, so she invented another personality named ‘Dr. Rossel,’ who was this very serious PhD,” Matskevich said. “Her other personality was ‘Ms. Stine,’ who loved to dance, sing, and was very irresponsible.”

“Every morning, she’d decide who to be that day, but no matter who she was, she always made everyone laugh.” Matskevich said.

To many in Harvard’s anthropology department, Rossel’s death came as an overwhelming shock.

“A lot of people here are completely devastated,” said Theodore C. Bestor, anthropology department chair and professor of archaeology. “Stine was an ideal person in every respect, and she is irreplaceable to us.”

A memorial service for Rossel will be held on Thursday in Memorial Church at 4 p.m., followed by a reception on the third floor of Peabody Museum.

“She’s the kind of person you only meet once in a lifetime,” Wood said of his wife. “She was a miracle, proof that there is goodness in the world.”

—Staff writer Nan Ni can be reached at