Suvan Gerlach, longtime Engineering School employee, dies at 56

"It was as if she always carried a little extra bit of sunshine with her, so that just having her enter a room brightened everyone's day," one professor said of Gerlach.

Suvan Gerlach

Suvan Gerlach

A memorial service will be held in January for Suvan Gerlach, who worked at Stanford for more than two decades, most recently as the administrative manager of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab.

She died Nov. 24 at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center after she was removed from life support. She had been in a coma since a Nov. 5 car accident in Cupertino.

She was 56.

Andrew Ng, an associate professor of computer science and a faculty member in the AI Lab, said Gerlach was one of the most cheerful people he knew.

"Whenever anyone ran into her in the hallway, we could always count on her big smile and laugh," he wrote in an email message. "It was as if she always carried a little extra bit of sunshine with her, so that just having her enter a room brightened everyone's day. She was one of the best-loved and most admired people I know. We all miss her greatly."

Gerlach met her future husband, Gary Gerlach, in her native Thailand when his former import/export firm, the Orion Group, hired her as the office manager. The couple, married for 30 years, made their home in San Jose.

"She was my angel, my best friend," Gary Gerlach, 67, told the San Jose Mercury News. "She was my entire world."

Suvan Gerlach earned a bachelor's degree in economics at Thammasat University in Bangkok in 1976. She began working at Stanford in 1984 as an administrative associate in the Electrical Engineering Department. In 1999, she left Stanford to work for VA Software Corp., a start-up company founded by Stanford students.

She returned to the Farm in 2003 as a research administrator in the Engineering Research Administration.

In 2008, Gerlach transferred to the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the Computer Science Department, where she served as the lab's administrative manager.

Maria David, an administrative associate in the AI Lab, remembered Gerlach as thoughtful and caring, someone who was "always there when we needed her," someone who would surprise her staff with treats.

"Every now and then, we would see fresh pastries on our desks in the morning when we came to work," David wrote in an email. "We were like family."

Alex Sandra Pinedo, an administrative assistant in the AI Lab, said Gerlach was more than a manager, she was a friend.

"She took care of us in many, many ways," she said.

Peche Turner, the department manager for the Computer Science Department, said Gerlach was a great mentor to younger staff – a role she really enjoyed.

Sebastian Thrun, director of the AI Lab, described Gerlach as an amazing woman who resolved the lab's problems.

"Over the years, I hired a number of new staff and I also let some go," Thrun said in an email message. "This all stopped the day Suvan started working for us. Staff became happy, competent and effective. Faculty was all of a sudden much more satisfied with the staff performance. It's amazing how much difference one great person can make. Suvan took on the leadership of the lab administration, and made everyone else really happy. I am stunned with how she did this."

Before Gerlach arrived in 2008, Thrun said he had insisted that the AI lab manager present all lab finances and allocations to him.

"With Suvan, I actually insisted on the opposite, that I not be shown any of these details, since it was clear to me Suvan's handling of all these matters would be superior to what I could hope to achieve," said Thrun, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering.

In addition to her husband, Gerlach is survived by two sisters, Nicharie and Surat Teerakulchon, and her brother, Suvit Teerakulchon. All live in Thailand.