Battel Chapel was filled with music and memories Sunday evening as some 200 friends, family members, classmates and other members of the Yale community gathered to remember Rachel Speight ’06, who lost her life in an accident this past June.
Speight, a member of Branford College whose friends called her Ramie, was undertaking a cross-country fundraising bike trip for Habitat for Humanity when she was hit and killed by a car in Kentucky. At the time of her death, Speight had raised over $4,000 towards building homes for low-income families in New Haven. Several speakers at the memorial emphasized that Speight’s death was particularly honorable because she died in the service of others.
Last night’s memorial service was a reflection of Speight’s life, and especially of her life at Yale. Speight, an active member of both the New Blue a cappella group and the selective Schola Cantorum, was honored with performances by both her former singing groups and the Yale Whiffenpoofs.
Esteli Gomez ’08 performed at the service with the Schola Cantorum. The incorporation of the performances into the service was a “really beautiful gesture” that Speight would have appreciated, Gomez said.
“Her life was so musical in every way,” she said.
The New Blue opened the service with a tearful rendition of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” which Speight had arranged for the group last February. Rachel Saltzman ’08, a member of New Blue who spoke after the performance, said she remembered Speight not only for her beautiful singing voice, but for her fiercely independent spirit.
“Ramie wasn’t interested in conventions or expectations,” she said. “She did things because they made sense to her, because she thought they would be fun.”
The image of Speight as a true individual was repeated throughout the speeches of the friends and family that spoke in her memory.
Gabe Smedresman ’06, a friend and fellow Branfordian, told the story of when he and Speight had gone on a bike ride one night, putting on head lamps when it got too dark. After the ride, they decided to wear the head lamps to dinner as well, “just to keep people on their toes.”
Speight’s former suitemates Jamie Yoo ’06, Concha Mendoza ’06, and Celia Muller ’06 remembered Speight for her love of watching television in her bathrobe, demonstrating her favorite yoga positions in the common room and making “pina snowladas” out of the first snow of the year.
“We miss her so much and are so thankful for the year we had with her,” Muller said. “Every day we all wish we could have her with us this year as well.”
Many of Speight’s college friends echoed the difficulty of her unexpected absence this year.
Errol Saunders ’06 said he met Speight on his very first day on the Yale campus, when they both arrived early for their FOOT trips. Since that first meeting, Speight had become a crucial source of support for Saunders and he said it will be hard for him to go without her during senior year.
“Every time I wanted to go home I could go talk to her, and she would let me know that everyone kind of felt that way sometimes,” he said. “She was my rock.”
Speight’s parents and sister traveled from Houston to attend the service. The family thanked the singing groups, Ramie’s friends and the Branford and Yale communities for the part they had played in both the service and Speight’s life at Yale.
“We thank all of you for making her a part of your family,” said Melinda Speight, Ramie’s mother.
At the end of the service, Simon Carrington, Speight’s director in Schola Cantorum, introduced a recording of a piece called “Seven Last Words from the Cross,” which the group sang on Good Friday of 2004. The piece ended with a soprano solo of “stratospheric heights” that Speight, with characteristic courage and confidence, had volunteered to sing. As the piece built, the audience gathered in Battel Chapel was silent in anticipation of the closing solo.
Speight’s voice, as always, was unmistakable.