The Massachusetts woman who was killed by a shark in the Bahamas on Monday was a standout math coach who was deeply devoted to her students and an animal lover who enjoyed walking her dog, those who knew her said Wednesday.
Lauren Erickson Van Wart, 44, was attacked by a shark while she was paddleboarding about three-quarters of a mile offshore, according to the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Beth Blumberg, who used to coach a math team with Van Wart, recalled her as “gorgeous, bright, and friendly.”
When initial media reports described Van Wart as a newlywed, Blumberg said she held out hope that her friend was not the victim, since she had been married for more than a decade.
“We wanted to not believe it was not Lauren,” she said. But soon, the reality became clear.
Blumberg was the head coach of the Western Mass ARML math team, which competes in the American Regions Mathematics League, and Van Wart helped with organizing practices and assessing students’ problem sets. Her dedication and love for mathematics were strong, Blumberg said.
Van Wart had a long drive from her home in Lowell to attend team practices in the Worcester area, and she traveled with students when they participated in regional math competitions at various locations, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“She loved math,” she said. “She was an incredibly well-respected coach. She grew up in this area and she was so bright. She was so smart.”
Van Wart enjoyed working with the students and helping them understand concepts, she said.
Van Wart graduated from the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a high school that enrolls approximately 100 “academically accelerated” juniors and seniors, Blumberg said.
In 1997 the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that Van Wart was among 34 seniors who graduated from the academy. She continued her studies at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating in 2002 with a triple major in mathematics, English literature, and economics. She was a chancellor scholar and member of the Golden Key Honor Society and Phi Eta Sigma, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“She was an absolutely lovely, wonderful, incredibly smart person,” Blumberg said. “It’s a total shame. She was an incredibly good person.”
Van Wart worked as a math specialist at Curriculum Associates in Billerica, the company said.
“Our team is heartbroken and grieving the loss of a dear and trusted colleague and friend. Lauren was a beloved member of our math editorial team, and she infused her deep dedication to students and educators into every material she touched,” chief executive Rob Waldron said in a statement. “Her commitment to excellence and outstanding work was driven by a higher purpose, focused on improving learning outcomes for all. Our Curriculum Associates community is mourning this tragedy and extends our deepest love and support to Lauren’s wonderful husband and all of her family.”
Blumberg described Van Wart and her husband as “an extremely strong, caring couple.”
She loved her dog, Blumberg said, and added that some years ago, she was hit by a car while walking her dog near her home.
Neighbors of the couple told WBZ News that they had lived in Lowell for more than a decade and they often saw Van Wart walking her dog.
“She always seemed very nice, always waved to us, said ‘Hello’ very neighborly,” said one of her neighbors, Beth Stack Emerson.
“Trip of a lifetime, it’s heartbreaking, it really is,” Stack Emerson told WBZ. “Shocking. These poor people, they probably looked forward to this vacation for months.”
Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.