LIFE HISTORY: Former rector VUB Caroline Pauwels (58) passed away “A warm and engaging personality, with commitment to society as a whole” | Instagram VTM NEWS

Etterbeek/JetteCaroline Pauwels, the former chancellor of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, died on Friday at the age of 58. The university said in a press release. She leaves behind two children.

Pauwels was rector of VUB from 2016 to 2022, but was forced to resign from that position earlier this year due to the consequences of stomach and esophageal cancer. She said this with great regret in her heart, “but a serious illness and the exceptionally beautiful, but also demanding task as headmaster can no longer be combined at this stage of my illness”, it then read. “It was an honor for me to be rector of VUB and the University Hospital Brussels, which is affiliated with VUB. Both institutions are humanistically inspired and work very closely together. They are indisputably and crescendo a great added value for Brussels and the surrounding area.”


She was a warm and engaging personality. A great inspirer with a clear vision. Her commitment did not only concern VUB, but society as a whole

Karsten De Clerck, chairman of VUB’s board

Caroline Pauwels was not a woman who went far. Uncommon, long kicked. She was a woman with ambitions, but with an eye for everything and everyone. Someone who at all times looks at the bigger picture and her fellow human beings. Even when she found out there was a cure in other countries – even neighboring countries – for her disease, she didn’t feel she needed preferential treatment or crowdfunding. “My network already helps me so much, but to use it like that would be wrong, I think. Now purely hypothetical: income from benefits is better used structurally to help more people than just myself,” she said in 2020. “I like living and I like working, but now it’s a question of join life,” she said during her recovery from COVID-19 as she resumed her cancer treatments.

Pauwel’s course was an example. She soared incredibly high, but always kept close to herself and her fellow humans. We flash back to her school days. She then studied philosophy and communication science herself, first in Antwerp and Leuven, and finally at VUB. And there she stuck. She closed Brussels in her heart and could not get away from it anymore.
After her first studies, she joined the Department of Communication Sciences as a researcher. She obtained her doctorate there in 1995 for research focusing on EU audiovisual policy, becoming a professor in 1998. From the year 2000, she was director of SMIT, a research center specializing in the study of information and communication technologies, for sixteen years, where she was able to write many publications. She has won prizes such as the Francqui Chair at the University of Ghent, and she was the holder of the Jean Monnet Chair.

In June, Pauwels was appointed honorary chancellor of the university together with former chancellor Paul De Knop. He died on Thursday from the effects of cancer. On 28 May this year, VUB’s foundation day, Brussels Minister Sven Gatz (Open Vld) also presented a bronze Zinneke to Pauwels. The award is given to people who have made a special effort for Brussels. More than a year ago, she also received the Flemish decoration from the hands of the Flemish Prime Minister. She received the medal “for her commitment and fighting spirit, both in her public and private life”.

“We will miss Caroline incredibly much at VUB, but we will always carry her in our hearts. She has transformed VUB into a warm, connected and compassionate university”, replies her successor Jan Danckaert in the university’s press release. VUB opened an online bereavement register where everyone can leave statements of support. “We remember her unwavering optimism and listening ear to everyone in the VUB community.” A common thread in her life, because similar memories keep popping up in the more than fifty statements of support.

Stream of supporting statements

“She was a warm and engaging personality. A great inspirer with a clear vision. Her commitment did not only apply to VUB, but to society as a whole”, says Karsten De Clerck, chairman of the board of VUB.

The news only became known recently, and the statements of support are popping up everywhere and especially in droves. From her closest friends and family, but also well-known Flemish people, politicians, her students, colleagues,… you name it. She was loved by many. Jan Jambon, Marc Van Ranst, Rudi Vranckx, Assita Kanko, Karl Drabbe, among others, sent their condolences via a tweet.

(Read more below the picture)

Expressions of support in response to Caroline Pauwel’s death via Twitter © Twitter

Expressions of support in response to Caroline Pauwel's death via Twitter
Expressions of support in response to Caroline Pauwel’s death via Twitter © Twitter

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