AIDS researcher who died in Malaysia Airlines crash studied in Tampa

Joep Lange was an exchange student at Robinson High from 1971-72. 
Joep Lange was an exchange student at Robinson High from 1971-72. 
Published July 20 2014
Updated July 20 2014

He didn't like suffering. He liked wearing his hair long. He liked Bob Dylan and coffee.

On Thursday, Joep Lange was among the 298 people who died after boarding the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Lange, a leading AIDS researcher who was traveling to a conference in Australia, was an exchange student at Robinson High School in Tampa from 1971-72. Classmates and friends remembered him Saturday as a brilliant man who never let success poison his pious nature.

Shortly after Lange moved to Florida, his host father lost his job and could no longer afford to house Lange. Dean McClendon, a journalism teacher at Robinson, heard the news and offered Mr. Lange, then 19, a place to live.

Her daughter, Tricia McClendon, 13 at the time, remembers when Lange moved into the family's three-bedroom home in Temple Terrace. He was tall and enjoyed discussing politics and literature with her mother and father. He stayed in her younger brother's room, in bunk beds.

For Tricia's 13th birthday, Lange bought her a record, the Beatles' White Album. Years later, she said, Lange would shake from drinking too much coffee, staying up too late in the hospital, looking for answers to the AIDS epidemic. During this time, he often invited HIV-infected patients over to his home for dinner with his family.

"He was a wonderful guy," Tricia McClendon said. "He was a good judge of character but rarely judged."

Sandy Pavlick of Panama City worked on the yearbook with Tricia McClendon's mother and often hung out with Lange. She said a mild accent and the occasional pair of European jeans were the only qualities separating Lange from his classmates.

"He was one of us," said Pavlick, now 59. "He was a Robinson Knight."

Pavlick said Lange returned to Florida in 2012 for the school's 40th year high school reunion. He told his former classmates about his daughters and asked about the peers who did not attend.

"As an adult, you would have never known, when you met him, that he had made that many accomplishments in his lifetime," Pavlick said. "He was so humble."

Contact Zack Peterson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @zackpeterson918.