"Jessie Withrow was born in California in 1980, but she considered herself an Alaskan, because from the time she was a year and a half old, she lived in Anchorage. From her early years, it was obvious that she was not an ordinary child. She was reading and doing simple math by the time she was four. Being tested by Anchorage School District personnel in order to enter kindergarten a year early, Jessie was found to qualify for gifted education. From the pre-school program through sixth grade, she got to attend ASD's magnet school for the highly gifted. There she made good friends. She never made friends in the neighborhood, because most kids her age thought she was weird, and their interests were seldom hers. She was a voracious reader, checking out stacks of books from the public library throughout her life (and paying an awful lot in library fines for overdue books). Jessie was a conscientious student, even if she did usually put off doing her homework until the last minute.

On an audio tape about her first day in second grade, in answer to the question of whether she'd known anyone on the bus, Jessie replied, "No, but there was a girl behind me who had a kind of worried look, so often I would turn and smile at her. And I did make her smile once." This illustrates Jessie's kind heart and thoughtfulness. Since Jessie's untimely death at the age of 20, several students from Steller Secondary School have told of how Jessie's friendliness helped to ease their transition into a new school; she smiled and made sure they felt included and introduced them to others who wound up becoming their friends.

Jessie was also known for her creativity. The most obvious thing was knitting. She got a book out of the library, "Nutty Knitting for Kids," and taught herself how to knit. Once she got started, she never stopped. She knitted everywhere-during classes, during casual conversations with friends, while reading or watching a video or riding in the car… Her former teachers and professors laugh to tell about Jessie knitting her way through their courses. However, they didn't mind, for they learned that she was always paying attention and could answer any questions they asked.

Jessie's creativity extended into other areas, too. She embroidered and crocheted and had started learning to tat (make lace) two months before she died. She sewed and made jewelry. Wanting to have chainmail items to wear to Renaissance Fairs, she learned to make chainmail. When she went off to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, the friends she made started learning, too. The annual award they subsequently created in Jessie's name includes a chainmail ribbon. To see a photo of the first one awarded, go to http://www.jessiewithrow.com/index_news.html and click on the second item, Jessie Withrow Award for Chem-Free Leadership.

Jessie was also a very talented writer. Her favorite English Teacher in high school spoke at Jessie's Celebration of Life, saying that Jessie was a better writer than she herself. Jessie worked on the Steller yearbook. She wrote for the teen page of the local newspaper while in high school and both wrote for and co-edited the Bates College literary magazine.

What some people remember best about Jessie was her zest for life. She had a wonderful wit and seemed to enjoy almost everything she did. She relished the joy inherent in Being Silly. She recognized that too many people miss out on a lot of fun every day, because they are afraid they might look foolish in someone else's eyes-even someone they don't know and may never see again. Not Jessie! She followed the maxim: "Dance as if nobody's watching." If she felt like dancing, she did, no matter where she was. If something reminded her of a song-and everything did-she would start singing that song. Jessie was who she was, openly and fearlessly. Her joie de vivre and boldness entertained and inspired many of her friends. At a memorial service held for Jessie at Bates College, one friend said, "Jessie didn't challenge us to be better people, or to be different, but to be more ourselves."

Don't think that she was just a Good Time Girl, though. Jessie knew the risks involved in smoking, drinking, and doing drugs; she chose to avoid those behaviors. Jessie was very serious about local and world issues, such as gender equality, poverty, children's rights, and ecology. She made sure to vote in every election from the time she turned eighteen, even voting absentee, once she went off to college. She was very involved in Model United Nations in high school, even teaching a peer-taught class at Steller for fellow students wishing to participate in Model UN. In college, she joined the debate team. Jessie probably would have gone on to make a positive difference in this troubled world, had she been allowed to live out a full life.

However, that was not to be. Home from college for the summer of 2000, Jessie was on her bike on the sidewalk late one night when a truck jumped the curb and hit her. She died of her injuries the next day.

With her kind heart and generosity, Jessie would surely have agreed to donate any organs or tissue upon her death. The decision was made without hesitation. Just as we shed our clothes at the end of the day, so do we shed our bodies at the end of this life. Jessie didn't need hers any more. Why not let it do some good for someone else?

Jessie lives on in the hearts of those who loved her, and she lives on in the strangers who have benefited from her tissue and organ donation. Jessie had planned to spend a year in Japan, teaching English, after graduating from college and before going on to grad school. It's some consolation to know that a woman in Japan received one of Jessie's corneas, so, in a way, Jessie is getting to see Japan."

Lovingly written by Wendy Withrow, Jessie's mother