COLUMBIA — On a day when friends should have been celebrating Tracy Fisher's birthday, they were grieving her loss.
Nearly 100 people attended a memorial service for the pre-journalism student Tuesday night at Hillel, the Jewish Student Center on campus. It was the day after she died, and she would have turned 19.
Fisher collapsed shortly before 10 a.m. Monday while crossing the intersection of College Avenue and Rollins Road. An autopsy revealed that a blood clot had formed in her leg, blocking the flow of blood to her lungs.
“She was the kind of person Hillel directors love having around,” said Kerry Hollander, executive director of MU’s local Hillel, a national organization for Jewish college students. “She was knowledgeable, and to say she was friendly is too trite. She made friends and was a friend.”
Hollander said the memorial on Tuesday was a regular evening service that included the Mourner’s Kaddish — “the prayer said in memory of those who are deceased.”
Hollander said Fisher was “very involved” in campus organizations, including Hillel and Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish sorority she had pledged.
The Sigma women took up the front row at the service, leading the crowd in prayers in both Hebrew and English, and recalling her sense of humor and cheerful disposition.
“She was a very happy person, and the world had a great loss today,” said sorority president and MU senior Amanda Rude. “We’re all trying to make sense of it.”
The service was stirring. Many people were in tears, and some left the room momentarily to regain composure.
Members of the MU Counseling Center were also present, checking with people as they left. Several took a stand at the podium at the end of the service and told of the impact Fisher had on their lives.
Some had known her for upward of four years. Others had only met her a few times.
“She always had a smile on her face. She took everything with a grain of salt, and that’s something to be admired,” said Sherman Fabes, who met Fisher at the beginning of the school year.
“I didn’t know her that well, it was so short a time, but she gave off that vibe that she was going to be there for you, no matter if you’d known her for two months or two years,” Fabes said.
The fact that Fisher would have turned 19 loomed over the service as the Sigma women lit 19 candles on a table on the side of the room. Also on the table was a bulletin board with several pictures, and a few pumpkins with Sharpie markers next to them.
Pumpkins were a favorite of Fisher’s, and mourners were encouraged to write messages on them. It didn’t take long for the gourds to wind up covered with notes and memories.
Originally from Dallas, Fisher attended Richardson High School, where she was active in choir, theater and the school newspaper, the Talon . Her friends from back home have equally fond memories of her.
“Every time I saw her, she was really happy and had friends around her,” said former Richardson student Miranda Moore, who met Fisher the summer before their freshman year of high school. “We once traded dresses for a dance and she gave me her bat mitzvah dress. I still have it.”
University of North Texas student Shelley Jackson was involved with Fisher in theater and the school newspaper for two years. She used a single word to describe Fisher: “Joy.”
"No matter what had happened to her earlier in the day and no matter what was making her stress, she always had a smile, a joke, a laugh, a dance."
After Jackson heard about Fisher’s death Monday afternoon, she and her friends chose to spend time sharing funny stories about Fisher and laughing at memories.
“I think she’d like that more than us sobbing over everything,” Jackson said. “She’d rather us laugh and remember her beautiful smile.”
Fisher eventually decided to go to MU to pursue journalism with the help of Tam Warner Minton, an independent college consultant.
“I knew her well. She was also a friend of my son’s in high school so she was over often for social events,” Minton said. “She was sunny and upbeat, looking on the bright side of everything.”
Minton recognized Fisher’s determination, skills and leadership. She offered her a chance to contribute to the blog she operates as part of her consulting business on collegeadventures.net. Minton hoped to chronicle a bright young student’s entry into college.
Journalism was not Fisher’s only passion. She poured great determination into choir and the stage, friends recalled. That determination eventually took her to Scotland.
“We performed together on an international stage at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland,” said Erin Kane, one of Fisher’s and Jackson’s friends from high school.
“She was my roommate on that trip and we had a blast. She has this amazing bell-like laugh that was infectious. We told her she sounded like Elmo. She laughed all the time. And her mouth is always open in pictures because she's making faces or laughing for the camera."
Fisher was always active in the Jewish community and was the president of her youth group at Temple Shalom in Dallas. Her friends remember her ability be positive about any situation, whether a budget meeting for her sorority or a tragedy in a friend’s life.
“One time, I was still really upset about another friend who had passed away. So she got together with two of our other friends and they came and literally kidnapped me in the middle of a Sunday,” Jackson said.
"They put a blindfold over me and tried to be serious about the whole thing, but I kept hearing Tracy just laughing and laughing. Eventually, we got into her car, and when we stopped, we were at one of her favorite restaurants, Pokey-O’s. There, we sat down and they all hugged me and comforted me. The whole thing was her idea.”
Ariel Goldschmidt of the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office said her death was likely to be “near instantaneous.”
A number of different factors can contribute to a pulmonary embolism, he said, such as heredity and environmental factors. Dehydration and previous leg injury/trauma can also contribute.
Fisher had no known history of illness or blood disease.
Goldschmidt said there is no normal screening for the presence of blood clots, but symptoms of thrombosis can include shortness of breath. Drugs can be prescribed to deal with known clotting disorders.
"A doctor is unlikely to check for blood clots just randomly," he said.
Fisher is survived by her parents, Mark and Laurel Fisher, and two brothers. She is also survived by the countless friends and acquaintances who said they will always remember her personality and love of others.
“I’ll never forget how she kept smiling at me and telling me that no matter what, she’ll always love me,” recalled Jackson of her "kidnapping" incident. “It was the best."