University of Massachusetts senior James W. Tan, a 10-year resident of Belchertown, passed away Feb. 19. He was 22.
The death occurred at an undisclosed Amherst location and was ruled not suspicious by the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Officials confirmed that Tan was not an on-campus resident of the University.
Originally from Amherst, Tan was a 2009 graduate of Belchertown High School. He was expected to graduate from UMass this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering.
His father, Will Tan, of Belchertown, said Tan will be deeply missed by those who knew him.
“His personality was – he’s always been tremendously sweet,” Will Tan said.
“Although it pains me to see his and my family in such pain because of his passing, I know that … he is in a better place,” said cousin Joanna Tan, 20, of Belchertown, in an interview over Facebook. “God’s grace gives us a little happiness during this tough time but it does not necessarily lessen the pain of loosing (sic) him.”
Joanna Tan grew up across the street from Tan and his family. Though she said she “did not know James extremely well during college,” she remembers him as being “an awkward kid with a great heart and a ridiculous brain.”
“He was always overly smart for his grade. It was no surprise when he decided to major in mechanical engineering,” she said. “He also had a good sense of humor, generally dry and sarcastic but he could be hilarious.”
Joanna Tan also recalled a time in their childhood in which, during a snowball fight, Tan accidentally threw an ice ball that cut her face.
“James was of course immediately very sorry and made his compassion known. Although we were young he didn’t need to be asked to apologize and he was really concerned for me,” she said.
This caring nature connected Tan to a passion for volunteer work and traveling. In high school, Tan got involved with Young Life, a non-denominational Christian missionary group similar to a youth group.
Will Tan said his son was “definitely the happiest when he was involved” with volunteer work.
“He liked to travel,” he added.
With Young Life, Tan traveled to a South Carolina, Guatemala and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. During these excursions, Tan would help “to build houses, maybe a school, and just generally help and encourage the people and children there,” according to Joanna Tan.
Other trips included working with a church in the Dominican Republic as well as backpacking and volunteering on Indian reservations in Montana.
“He grew spiritually from the relationships he developed and greatly enjoyed the companionship he found” while involved with Young Life, states Tan’s obituary penned by his family.
In addition to his parents Will and Laura (Perry) Tan, both UMass alumni, Tan is survived by three siblings: Jeremy, 19; Julia, 15; and Joshua, 10.
“He was a good big brother and in my memory, he was especially great with the youngest, Joshua,” Joanna said of Tan, who is also survived by grandparents Leong Hong Tan and Fai Yoke Leong, of Belchertown, and Sheila and George Perry, of Weymouth, as well as aunts, uncles and cousins.
The Tan family is planning a memorial service to celebrate his life March 30 at College Church 58 Pomeroy Terrace, Northampton at 2 p.m. The family requests that in lieu of flowers to make donations in Tan’s memory to Young Life of Hampshire County at younglife.org. For more information and to sign the online guestbook, visit beersandstory.com.