Frank and Caroline LaPere want to tell you about their daughter.
LaPere, at 26, had already reached the kind of success that eludes some people their whole lives. She was newly named a “30 under 30″ designee by Forbes in its social impact category, and her star had just risen to unthinkable heights when someone took it out of orbit. Her parents wonder what she could have achieved in another 40 years. They focus instead on the extraordinary life she lived: the accolades, the impact, the bonds she shared with so many.
Reflecting on Pava with those who loved her has helped Frank and Caroline LaPere survive the past few months. Ahead of a celebration of life service Saturday, they said it’s how they plan to spend the rest of their days, too.
The memorial service drew dozens of attendees Saturday at the Johns Hopkins University, LaPere’s alma mater. Friends and relatives, university President Ronald J. Daniels, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore shared remarks, recounting her ”dazzling” creativity and talents and relentless pursuit of her dreams.
Daniels, at the event, said Hopkins will rededicate a facility in LaPere’s memory — to be called the Pava Marie LaPere Center for Entrepreneurship. And $2 million also will be drawn from an estate gift to create a new endowment to support student entrepreneurs.
To the LaPere family, Saturday’s service and the honors mark a step toward cementing Pava’s legacy.
“This is our gift to our daughter,” Frank LaPere, wiping away tears, said. A day before the service, he and his wife held court with a small stream of visitors in a dimly lit Baltimore hotel conference room. On the table before them, they laid out relics from a past life — Pava’s school pictures, handmade cards, family portraits.
“I knew she was friendly and made friends,” Caroline added. “But I didn’t realize the depth of the relationships. I always worried that she just worked too much. Was she never going to have a social life? When did she have fun in her life? Well, she was having fun as she was working.”
LaPere, who had plans to study medicine when she landed in Baltimore in 2015, changed course after developing a penchant for entrepreneurship. She would start three ventures as an undergraduate — one of them, EcoMap Technologies, became her full-time job after she graduated — and helped craft a culture of social entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins.
EcoMap tied together LaPere’s passions for innovation, social justice and attacking problems at scale. The company, which has landed major contracts around the country, diagrams available resources, jobs, organizations, people and events in local “ecosystems,” be it nonprofits in Baltimore, small businesses in Columbus, Ohio, or entrepreneurship in Birmingham, Alabama. It aims to level the playing field in all fields.
“EcoMap is a living dream,” Caroline said. “It stinks that she’s not here. But so many of the things she started are here. And they’re going to go forward. What a waste it would be to not let that happen.”
The Baltimore-based company, which employs about 30 people, has been taken over by co-founder Sherrod Davis, a close friend and confidante of LaPere. He remarked Saturday that his friend possessed “the strength and fortitude of a giant in a 5-foot-2 frame.”
In interviews, LaPere gave unfiltered accounts of the company’s fits and starts — many at Saturday’s memorial service said her raw candor drew people close. Her charisma powered the company. And it made her a larger-than-life figure, even in death.
”We all wished more for Pava: the tragedy of her loss is as boundless as her potential,” her brother, Nicolas, said during remarks. “We’ve all been shown that life is all too short, and all too twisting, when we presume to know its course. … This is Pava’s gift to us.”
LaPere’s parents said their interactions with EcoMap’s staff have provided a bright light during dark days. The diverse cast their daughter assembled represents all the best parts of her.
“She just saw people,” Frank LaPere said. “One of her probably best abilities was, she could see something in someone that no one else could: potential.”
She also saw potential in Baltimore, her adopted home that she devoted every spare moment toward bettering. Over time, Pava became one of the city’s most involved boosters, with grand visions of cultivating a hub for startup businesses and technology companies like her own and lessening its deep economic divides. She lived in the same building where she worked, commuting by elevator.
“She loved Baltimore,” Frank said. “And, unfortunately, she died because of some of those inequities. Her goal was to help eliminate a lot of the inequities that exist.”
The LaPeres said they plan to spend more time in Baltimore in the coming weeks. The man suspected of killing their daughter — who also is accused of attacking a man and woman in West Baltimore less than a week earlier — was indicted in October on charges including first-degree murder, rape and arson. Hearings are scheduled for January and March.
The LaPeres said they’re prepared to engage in the upcoming judicial proceedings — whatever that entails. But that’s all they’ll say about that. There’s plenty else they’d rather talk about.