Monday, September 15, 2008

In Memoriam: Sarah Chapman, 1988-2008

Today, UAHuntsville -- and the many individuals who knew and loved Sarah Chapman -- suffered an enormous loss when Sarah was killed in a bicycle accident near campus.

Sarah -- a Marketing major and Communications Art minor -- was one of 16 students who traveled to Germany in May for a History/Global Studies course on "Nazi Germany." Although Sarah was not a history major, the many history majors who got to know her last spring semester and during the two weeks in Germany in May are full of grief today at her death.

Sarah was a truly extraordinary person. She was very intelligent and hard-working, but even more striking were her natural curiosity and her supreme confidence. In Germany, she was tireless, soaking up every opportunity that came her way, whether formal class activities or extracurricular fun. She went to museums, she listened to the Dalai Lama speak at the Brandenburg Gate, she traveled to Neuschwanstein to see the the "fairy tale castles," and she met people from all over the world -- many of whom are now her "Facebook friends." She was absolutely fearless in the way she put herself out there and got every bit possible out of the experience.

Several memories stand out most to me. In Munich, she and her friends Erica and Daniel wanted to enjoy the Viktualienmarkt -- a famous outdoor fresh food market -- in proper style. Rather than buying a premade sandwich, they ended up buying a baguette and spreading fresh salami and cheese on it from several different stands. I remember Sarah coming to me and asking for advice on how to buy the cheese; Gouda was her preference. She and her friends also bought fresh cherries to eat with their "sandwiches." I was proud that she and the others chose to experience lunch in this "authentic" way.

I remember Sarah hard at work on the train from Munich to Nuremberg, jotting down notes for her take-home final exam. She was simultaneously keeping a journal. As she wrote, she came to me frequently for clarification on details related to class activities. She wanted to remember every single thing she experienced, and she wanted to remember it right. She planned to do a scrapbook on her Germany trip when she returned. The day before her death, in fact, she posted an album related to her weeks in Germany to her Facebook page.

In Berlin, Sarah decided she wanted to go the ballet. During a break from a class walking tour, she and I went to the Staatsoper to inquire about tickets for With/Out Tutu, that night's ballet. Lines were out the door because, as it turned out, that was the opening day to purchase tickets for the coming opera season. I explained to Sarah that class had to continue and we could not wait so long in line. Lo and behold, she later went back to the opera house, bought a ticket, and went to the ballet all by herself. She showed enormous self-confidence -- in a city of over 3 million people who speak German! The next morning at breakfast, she told me -- with glowing eyes - "You'll never believe what I did last night."

I was stunned by Sarah. That she had a keen intellect and good work ethic were perhaps not so surprising; many students do. But her wide-ranging curiosity and her fearless confidence were well beyond her years and left me with great admiration -- and great expectations for her future. It is heartbreaking that she will never know that future -- but I am so glad that she got so much out of the life that she had.

Pictured are Sarah in Munich with her friend and roommate Erica Pruett; Sarah in the cheese store (this is Sarah's own photograph, posted to Facebook the day before her death); Sarah on the train from Munich to Nuremberg working on her final exam; and Sarah (third from left, along with Ruth Behling, George Preussel, and Sarah Fisher) at the Berlin Wall. Here Sarah is wearing a pashmina scarf she bought in Nuremberg. The woman who sold it to her suggested that the fabric made her look mature, and Sarah was very proud of her scarf and wore it most days .

Rest in Peace, Sarah.

--Molly Johnson, instructor of "Munich, Nuremberg, Berlin: Legacies of the Third Reich" (Spring 2008)


beardsarefun said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend Sarah. She seems like an incredible person. This was a true tragedy. My condolences to the family and friends. Are any legal actions being taken against the motorist?

Srinath said...

This is our condolences to the family and friends.Sarah, rest in peace.

Ashley said...

Sarah was a really close friend to me and made a huge impact on my life. You could not ask for a better friend and rolemodel.

I hope we all learn from this tragedy and live our lives to the fullest. It seems so unfair to have someone with so much going for her to be taken away.

Charles, Gloria, and Davis, if you are reading this, please understand that Sarah loved you all dearly. We all should feel blessed to have know her.

Sarah, we miss you with all our hearts.

Molly W Johnson said...

In response to the first comment from beardsarefun: some of the original reports about the cause of the accident were incorrect.

The Huntsville Times had an article last Saturday, Sept. 20, entitled "Cell Phone Cited in Cyclist's Death." The article featured excerpts from the police report.

According to the report, the driver had just turned on her windshield wipers and had glanced at her cell phone when she hit Sarah, who was trying to avoid road debris. According to the newspaper article, the report concluded that "The wreck was the result of the SUV driver not being in control of her vehicle."

Sarah -- an experienced and careful cyclist -- was wearing a helmet, which came off during the collision.

Despite declaring that the driver was not in control of her vehicle, the police nonetheless concluded that Sarah's death was an "accident" because the driver was not drinking or speeding.

Many people are surprised, and highly angry, by the police decision.

Here is the link to the article:

The "ghost bike" mentioned in the article, and left by local cyclists, is still present at the scene.

smk929 said...

this was my cousin... i am so happy i found this blog, me and her share the same name, her mom and my mother were sisters and she is deeply missed in Louisiana by all her relatives. we all know she's in heaven and that's all that matters,because when we need her we will be touched by our sweet angel, Sarah. I love you cousin!! i miss you,till the end. please wait for me, i love you
-cousin Sara.

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