Tyler Cary, a 31-year-old man who died in People’s Park in Southside Berkeley, was a Ph.D. student at UC Davis and loved by his family and colleagues.
Cary was found in a tent Friday afternoon and pronounced dead the same day. The Alameda County coroner’s office said a cause of death isn’t available yet, but police said foul play is not suspected.
Tyler was a Ph.D. student at UC Davis studying physics. He was born in New Jersey, graduated from Marlboro High School in New York and lived in Davis and Santa Cruz before landing in Berkeley. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic University and a master’s in physics from UC Davis.
In an online obituary, his family said he was a fun-loving man who enjoyed going on vacations in Long Beach Island with his family, watching stand-up, running barefoot and in Vibram toe shoes and engaging in good conversation.
The last few years had been difficult for Cary as he struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues, the family said. “Tyler’s warm smile and easy laugh will stay in our hearts forever.”
He’s survived by his parents, his two brothers, his paternal and maternal grandparents, and “many aunts and uncles and fourteen loving cousins.” The family is accepting donations on Cary’s behalf to the New Bridge Foundation, an addiction treatment center in Northside Berkeley.
A family friend noted in the obituary’s comment section that Cary was like a “mother hen to his little brothers.”
“I will always remember Tyler as the sweet and savvy little boy,” Beth wrote. “Whether it was building intricate structures with blocks or creating scenarios for he and his brothers to reenact during playtime.”
UC Davis physics community remembers their classmate
“Tyler was a great student — hard-working, creative, fun,” said UC Davis Professor Richard Scalettar. “I remember he always came to our morning basketball group wearing these funny shoes that he had bought that looked sort of like thick socks with separate toes.”
Scalettar met Cary in the summer of 2011 when Cary came to Davis for the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program. Cary co-authored a research paper with Scalettar from just one summer’s work, titled “Destruction of Superconductivity by Disorder: A Study of Spin-Dependent Hopping Disorder in the Attractive Hubbard Model.”
Cary returned to Davis years later to pursue his doctorate. His work included a paper modeling a collection of one-dimensional magnets intersecting each other, also with Scalettar.
His cohort quickly learned about his passing, and former classmates from Davis, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and beyond recalled their bright classmate. They said he was positive, warm and welcoming.
Wenjian Hu said even though he did not have deep conversations with Cary because of a language barrier, Cary made him feel welcome in the United States.
“After the group meeting, we usually went out for lunch together,” Hu wrote in a group email chain. Cary always knew where the good bars were. “It is very nice of him to accompany us to enjoy the American culture.”
Another recalled that Cary played the saxophone in a band. His interests ranged from physics (specifically the use of Wang-Landau in quantum Monte Carlo simulations, which he wrote about) to art and film.
“Tyler was a good friend and a very intelligent student-scientist,” Natanael Costa wrote in an email. “During my stay in Davis, I met great people, and Tyler was one of them. He was a great human being: polite, kind, funny, supportive, etc. It is a big loss.”
Cary also helped introduce young people to science, escorting elementary school students between labs when the university hosted visits.
“The students absolutely loved him,” Scalletar said. “We got thank you notes after the visits, and many of them were all about Tyler and the impression he made on young minds.”
He didn’t complete his Ph.D. and shifted first to Santa Cruz before coming to Berkeley a few years ago.
“He attended group meetings increasingly sporadically. I tried to connect with him on a
few walks. He told me about interesting books he was reading and seemed OK in some sense,” Scalletar said of Cary’s last years at Davis, when he tried to encourage him to complete his studies. “But there was something strange going on that I could not fathom. I eventually just lost contact.”
Cary lived in multiple locations including the park and the Rodeway Inn, briefly, according to Nicholas Alexander, a People’s Park occupant and activist. He said Cary could always be found with a large book on an esoteric topic and would engage people in conversation.
“We were all relieved, to some extent, when Tyler turned up in Berkeley because we at least knew where he was, and he was relatively close to me geographically,” said Scalletar, explaining that Berkeley police would sometimes help keep tabs on Cary, and confirm he was OK. “I drove down to Berkeley a number of times and on maybe half the occasions would find Tyler and have lunch or chat.”
Scalettar emphasized that Cary was deeply loved and that his family members and others made repeated, “heroic” efforts to fly out from New York for weeks to intervene when he was living on the streets and bring him home.
Community members at People’s Park had been concerned about Cary and were crushed to hear of his passing.
“He’s gonna be missed; he’s gonna be really missed,” Alexander said.