Ryan Durie, a 20-year-old junior marine biology major at Stony Brook University, died by suicide in his suite on the Southampton campus on Feb. 24.
Upon one of his suitemates discovering Durie in his room in the afternoon, the Suffolk County Police were notified and dispatched to the campus.
An open-casket funeral service was held in Holbrook, Long Island, on Feb. 28. Durie’s family and friends gathered to share sentiments and fond memories of how they remembered him.
Durie’s father, Eric Durie, said he and his family wanted to turn the service into a celebration of the impact that Durie had on everyone’s life.
“We asked his friends from all areas of his life to come up and share memories of his life,” Eric said. “The amount of happiness and joy that went on over an hour is something that we’ll always remember.”
The brightness and warmth that could be felt radiating from every attendee at the service was something that Eric believes his son would have appreciated.
Funeral expenses were aided by a GoFundMe created by Kayla Brandon, a family friend who has known the Duries for over five years. Brandon is an assistant manager of Amigos Mexican Cantina and was Durie’s supervisor while he worked at the restaurant. She created the GoFundMe as a token of her appreciation for him as both a worker and a friend. The page was created on Feb. 25 and reached the $20,000 goal within a week.
“All of the names adding up tugged at our heartstrings,” Brandon said. “Seeing them showed just how loved Ryan was by his community. It was wonderful for everyone to be able to come together.”
Providing the largest donation of $1,000 was Milana Pla, Durie’s girlfriend and a pre-med neuroscience junior who attended Stony Brook University until Fall 2020, before she transferred to the University of Delaware.
Pla recalled the nostalgic moments that she and Durie shared, like their first meeting in Fall 2019 through the Peer Assisted Learning program (PAL), as he tutored her in general chemistry. She also recalled a spontaneous road trip that same fall, which went on for hours as they traveled all the way from Stony Brook to New Paltz for a specific brand of coffee.
“Long Island does not serve Stewart’s coffee,” Pla said. “We went to Wallkill, New Paltz at 2 a.m. and didn’t get there until 5 a.m. We got back to Stony Brook at 9 a.m. and still ended up attending our 10 a.m. classes.”
Despite their exhaustion afterwards, Pla said the time spent together was well worth it.
As a way to honor Durie’s memory, Pla decided to get a tattoo of a leopard stingray on her collarbone. Pla explained that the inspiration for the design was derived from Durie’s passion for marine wildlife. Last December, the two went onto the World Wildlife Fund page and donated up to $100 for four different endangered wildlife species, including the leopard stingray.
Pla was not the only one Durie impacted. In a similar tribute of remembrance, Matthew Lauer, a junior environmental studies major, also got a tattoo in honor of Durie. The tattoo shows a cascading wave accompanied by the Little Dipper constellation, with Durie’s initials on the side wrapped around by double-edged arrows.
“The wave was meant to represent the ocean because that brought us together since we were at the Southampton campus,” Lauer said. “The little dipper, he loved it and would always talk about it, whenever we went on a late-night walk, he would always look for it.”
Lauer had only known Durie for one month and said that the two of them quickly became inseparable through their mutual interests in academics. Lauer said that he has not had a quickly fortified relationship in such a short time span with anyone else before.
Lauer was also the last to see Durie while he was still alive. He recalled Durie’s final words to him: “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Much like the double-edged arrows in his tattoo, meant to represent the circle of life, Lauer said he is sure that one day he and Durie will “see each other again.”
Alex Azar, a sophomore environmental science major, used art to show what Durie meant to her. She created a pencil portrait of Durie that she gifted to his mother after he died.
Durie’s character was not only evident in his social and personal life, but in his academic life as well.
“Ryan did near perfect in grading categories … He was a good contributor and interacted well with his classmates. He was happy to talk to people outside of his discipline,” Jonathan Anzalone, a professor who teaches news literacy at Stony Brook, said.
Durie took Anzalone’s news literacy class during the Fall 2019 semester and was in his recitation as well. Anzalone said Durie was always “a positive presence” in recitation because he was more than happy to participate in class group work.
Students in the class also noted his positive presence. According to his peers, he was known for making conversation in the hallway and engaging in deep discussions with classmates before class started. He would talk to any student, regardless of background or major, simply because he wanted to get to know them better.
“We took news literacy together, and while I wasn’t close to him, he would always greet me like a friend,” Daniel Lee, a former Stony Brook student said.
Durie used his marine science background to help students with general chemistry as a teaching assistant and as a tutor for the PAL program through the Academic Success and Tutoring Center (ASTC) at Stony Brook.
“He had such a positive and upbeat attitude that made it seem like he genuinely cared about how well we did,” Jafar Ahmad, a sophomore psychology major, said. “He constantly reassured us and told us we are smarter than we think. At no point did he make anyone feel bad about asking a question or going over anything.”
Ahmad took general chemistry when Durie was a teaching assistant for that class and had nothing but positive recollections of Durie.
“He wouldn’t care if you came late,” he said. “He was just happy that you came at all.”
Two of Durie’s passions outside of academic work included football and cooking. Durie’s mother, Jodi Durie, says he was particularly gifted with an incredible ability for the latter.
“We would cook together, and we would try and figure out a recipe,” Jodi said. “And he would always say, ‘Keep tasting it, you got it, you know, just keep tasting it, and then you’ll know whether it’s good or not,’ or he would talk about how refreshing cooking was.”
“He really loved food, even the ones most people hated. He cooked a ton and experimented as much as he could. It’s something he took a lot of pride in,” Joseph Bansgopaul, a junior health science major, said.
Durie’s mother also remembered her son’s inquisitive nature. She said he loved to have deeper discussions about various ambiguous topics, such as spirituality and religion. When it came to conversations about beliefs, Durie wondered why one would believe what they do. She said that she personally learned through him that it was never enough for one to believe something without justification.
“He cared about everyone and everything from friends and family to the environment,” Azar said. “I really want him to know how important he was to our friend group and me; he had such a beautiful soul.”
Durie had a positive impact on the many who met him, in both academic and social settings. His love of learning and commitment to helping others was evident in his everyday actions and through his close friends and family’s shared sentiments.
“He always tried to find a way to be happy and expressive,” Aidan Durie, Ryan’s younger brother said. “All I know is that it meant a lot to everybody just to be there [at the funeral].”
He will be deeply missed by his family and friends.
Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255 if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or tendencies. The NSPH provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.