In the reception area of n Architecture in Richmond Hill, a candle burned and photos and flowers adorned the front desk of senior architect Mahdieh Ghassemi.
She and her two children, 11-year-old Arsam Niazi and eight-year-old Arnica Niazi, were on board Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 as it crashed in Iran on Wednesday. All 176 people on board were killed.
Nitin Malhotra, the principal architect said the 15 employees who work in his company at a tight-knit group that were often cheered up by Ghassemi’s energy. Devastated to learn that Ghassemi was killed on the doomed flight, the office was shut down on Wednesday.
“She was a super whiz, like a rock star. She kept on taking on responsibilities and delivering and performing, so much so that by the time this accident happened she was my right-hand person in the office,” explained Malhotra, adding he hired her in 2014 as an intern architect when she had virtually no experience in Canada.
“She went through this rigorous internship program to get her licence. She was very driven, very committed, very bright — just a nice, warm individual. (She was) someone that I could trust, rely on, put her in front of my clients, as well as rely on her when she was away from my office that she could manage my staff.”
Malhotra also remembered Ghassemi as a devoted mother to two children she was excited to take home to Tehran for the holidays. Ghassemi’s husband, Hamid Niazi, decided to stay home.
But Malhotra said he had concerns and urged her to cancel the trip.
“Because the riots had started in Iran, I think students were protesting against the regime — the government there. So she waited, was waiting and watching, and just before her flight was due, things got better and she left,” he said.
Malhotra said the two were in touch through the trip and recalled the last text message he received from Ghassemi Tuesday afternoon as she and her children were leaving for the airport in Tehran.
He wrote, “Have a safe flight,” and said, “See you on Thursday.” She responded with an emoji of two hands praying.
“It’s just a big loss — a big loss,” he said.
Malhotra said the older child, Arsam, was smart when it came to technology. A Grade 6 student at Pleasant Public School in North York, he said Arsam helped the architectural firm set up its computers when it moved offices over a year ago.
Malhotra remembered Arnica, a Grade 3 student at Finch Public School, as a smart child who was doing well in school.
“Mahdieh said that she was very focused. And I said, ‘She’s going on her mom,'” he recalled.
Hamid is now on his way to Tehran to try to identify his family, Malhotra said. And ironically, he said Hamid works as a flight test engineer at Bombardier.
“It’s just extremely sad for him, very sad,” Malhotra said.