No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13
DANBURY – When a young woman performs the ultimate act of kindness, giving her life in the process, the spotlight often falls on the community of leaders who helped form her character. In the case of Rebecca Draper Townsend, who died July 2 while saving a friend’s life, the high school that graduated her with Distinguished Honors on June 3 gives Miss Townsend all the credit.
“Rebecca was a very selfless girl,” said Mary R. Maloney, president of Danbury’s Immaculate High School in the Bridgeport Diocese. “She lived the value of compassion and, if we as a school provided anything, it was supporting her efforts to provide a better life for others.”
She added that the school could not take credit for Miss Townsend’s selfless actions.
Miss Townsend, 17, of Brookfield, was at a fireworks display with a friend, 17-year-old Benjamin Arne of New Fairfield, when they decided to get something to eat. While crossing Lake Avenue Extension at about 9:30 p.m., they were struck by a car. Mr. Arne was hospitalized for two days and released; Miss Townsend was pronounced dead at Danbury Hospital, according to police.
Seconds before the crash, according to Mr. Arne, Miss Townsend told him to hurry and gave him a push. He believes the push saved his life.
The story has since gained worldwide attention because of a letter Miss Townsend wrote to her future self two and a half years earlier, in which she listed a short bucket list of things to do before she died:
– Kiss in the rain.
– Fly to Spain.
– Save a life.
Her parents took her to Spain. Her boyfriend kissed her in the rain. She saved a life on the day she died.
At her funeral, according to news reports, her sisters, Monica and Victoria Townsend, read the letter aloud. It has since prompted a Remembering Rebecca Facebook page, which by late July had attracted more than 35,000 “likes” and contained comments from people all over the world, in several languages. A Twitter hashtag #RememberingRebecca has been “favorited” more than 1,700 times, and a rememberingrebecca Instagram page has more than 4,700 followers. The story has been shared by the Today Show, People magazine and on the She’s the First website, an organization dedicated to sponsoring girls’ education in low-income countries.
In her freshman year, Miss Townsend met with school administrators and formed a chapter of She’s the First. “She rallied faculty support, expanded membership of the first official high school campus chapter and by her junior year, she organized three major events including a Zumba-thon, bake sales and dress down days that raised awareness and over $3,000,” said Mrs. Maloney. “Rebecca had an inherent desire to make a difference and provide hope to girls who value education and need someone to help them achieve it.”
The school’s She’s the First chapter has selected a scholar from Guatemala to attend college in honor of Miss Townsend.
She was also a volunteer teacher assistant at the Danbury Head Start program, Mrs. Maloney said. She excelled in academics and was the 2014 Susan B. Anthony Award recipient for community service. She was set to enter Notre Dame in the fall, pursuing an interest in business.
The now-famous “bucket list” letter is a standard assignment for sophomores at Immaculate High School, Mrs. Maloney said.
Her sisters stated on the Remembering Rebecca Facebook page that they found the letter on Miss Townsend’s bed after her death. Monica Townsend wrote that “I think it’s her little way of telling us she is OK; she accomplished what she needed to; she made it.”
“Rebecca Draper Townsend was a beautiful, caring person who was passionate about service work and charities, constantly working to better the lives of others,” said Mrs. Maloney. “Rebecca was always reaching out to help classmates or underclassmen who had personal challenges or who were experiencing feelings of isolation, extending herself to help in every way possible to make a tangible difference in their lives. Rebecca thought of others before herself.”