Obituary: Zachary Porter, Arts & Sciences student, 20

Porter loved exploring the outdoors and sailing. At Washington University, he excelled at his studies in economics and computer science. (Photo courtesy of the Porter family)

Zachary Porter, a rising junior in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, drowned Sunday, May 21, 2023, while walking on tidal mud flats near Hope, Alaska. He was 20. 

Porter, from the Chicago suburb of Lake Bluff, Ill., was studying economics and mathematics in Arts & Sciences and computer science at the McKelvey School of Engineering. 

Porter was a pitcher for the Washington University club baseball team, the Slayers; a member of Sigma Nu fraternity; a Campus Y volunteer at Wydown Middle School and local animal shelters; and a teaching assistant and tutor at McKelvey Engineering. His friends — and he had many on every corner of campus — say Porter possessed a boundless enthusiasm and innate talent for everything he tried, from data science to acoustic guitar. 

“Zach loved to challenge himself,” said Aaron Held, Porter’s roommate. “It wasn’t just about getting good grades, which he did. It was about understanding the why behind everything he learned.” 

“And he loved to help others,” added fellow roommate Peter Nesin. “On the weekends, I’d roll out of bed at 11:30. And he would be like, ‘I just got back from the pet shelter and now I’m going to TA.’ That’s what made him happy.”

Maria Canon, a senior lecturer in economics, observed Porter’s generous spirit in her econometrics course. 

“His passion to help others was reflected not only in his class project about the determinants of infant mortality, but also in how he helped classmates through his constructive feedback,” Canon said. “I remember reading the draft of another classmate and being surprised by the number of comments. Sure thing — those were Zach’s.”

A talented athlete, Porter also loved sailing and was the Slayers’ top pitcher. 

Zach Porter was the star pitcher for the Slayers, WashU’s club baseball team. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Merkadeau)

“When Zach showed up for tryouts, it took one pitch and we were like, ‘Oh yeah. He’s on the team,’” Slayers president Joseph Merkadeau said. “He was clearly better than any pitcher on our team or anyone we would face.” 

But it was not Porter’s unhittable slider that endeared his teammates; it was his wry humor and easy nature. Porter managed the team’s hilarious Twitter account and, on one memorable road trip, sang the entire “Hamilton” soundtrack note for note. 

“He’s always the first one to welcome the new guys and get people to come to events,” Merkadeau said. “The team will obviously be much worse without him there. It will also be less fun. He was the person who brought us together.”  

Porter is survived by his parents, Todd and Susan; and older sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah. A memorial service was held on Sunday, May 28, on Sunrise Beach in Lake Bluff, Ill. The Porter family has started The Zachary Porter Foundation, currently maintained as The Zachary Porter Fund, at the Chicago Community Trust.  The foundation will help subsidize enrichment activities, including music lessons, sports, park programs and outdoor field trips for kids who would not otherwise have access to these opportunities.  In the longer term, The Zachary Porter Foundation aims to establish an outdoor space where species of all kinds can take refuge and children can learn about the natural world that Porter so deeply valued.

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