NORTHAMPTON - It's hard to forget the first time you met Andrea Raphael. For so many, it was at her and John Reily's house in Florence at "family parties" that included dozens of cousins, neighbors, exchange students, teachers and a few people Andrea had just met. This was Andrea's family: the world.
The Guest Book is expired.
Visitors walking in the door would look around the chaos, and invariably find Andrea's wide smile. She'd then get close and the conversation would start. Her questions were probing, insightful, personal. Her perspectives were deep, wide-ranging and global. You want to find a school for a teenager with special needs? Andrea knew the research - and a good family for you to talk to also.
This was classic Andrea. She had an amazing ability to connect with people - intellectually, instinctively - and with humor - on subjects as wide-ranging as fair trade, travel, sports, languages and music. "I love it,'' she would say after a new conversation. "I just love it." And she did. Andrea Raphael did not drink life. She gulped it.
It could be gleefully biking up Mount Washington or playing soccer on the Smith College soccer field. It was taking John and their children, Christopher and Maeve, to live in Guatemala for a month and then visit China two years later. It was dressing up as a strawberry to judge the food competition for the Eat Your Art Out fundraiser event that she created when she was president of the board at the Northampton Center for the Arts. "How can you begin to encapsulate or sum up someone as full of life as Andrea?" wrote her husband John. "She spills off the page and runs right past the punctuation."
Andrea was the daughter of Christopher Raphael of Brooksville, Maine, and Audrey (Amita) Easter of Northampton, and sister of Peter, Charlie and Kip Raphael. She grew up in Northern Virginia, attending Madeira School and graduating from Williams College in 1986, where she was a three-sport athlete. She also attended Tufts University, earning a master's degree in Urban and Environmental Policy.
"My mind has been constantly bombarded by reminders and recollections of Andrea's huge laugh and her enormous smile and her ebullience," recalled Betsy Neiva, a Williams classmate. "And her car that never had gas, her athletic prowess and her convictions and her persuasiveness and her back rubs and her long blonde braid, and her fleeces, and her chocolate chip cookies, and her love of music and languages and cultures and communities, and the joy with which she filled any room she entered."
After college Andrea worked at CalPirg, the World Wildlife Fund and the Progressive Group in Hadley. Andrea was, at her core, a social advocate. She nurtured relationships among people. She defended the disenfranchised. And she brokered peace - especially in her role as a mediator with the Center for Human Development in Springfield, where she worked for 10 years in family and youth mediation. "Andrea was a crusader for peace and justice. She spent countless hours in that mysterious and enthralling place where conflict morphs into opportunity," said her colleague Kathy Hall.
She was acutely aware of global injustice and was determined to help those less fortunate than she was. She volunteered on the Hamden County Community Accountability Board, which helped inmates transition back into communities and worked with the Families with Power project in the Jackson Street School. She railed against the *New Yorker* magazine because it never had people of color in its cartoons. She spent her last six years working as a special education teacher at Deerfield Elementary School. Always in search of new and better ways to reach young people, she led the Dyslexia Study Group, a professional learning community for educators in Pioneer Valley.
When Andrea became ill with mysterious debilitating symptoms in January 2011, she attacked it with the same passion she did with life. She tried to find out everything about the "confusing and controversial world of chronic Lyme," as she noted in a letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette in August 2011. Her road to a diagnosis was long and difficult. Answers were temporary and solutions sometimes fleeting. Yet, she still battled for others even as she was suffering.
"In my life I wanted to create connections, to create that sense of purpose with other people, to work on behalf of values, causes and things that we feel are important," Andrea said a few years ago, as part of a community dialogue group. "And all along to play, to dance, to make music, to celebrate in a way that makes and keeps my connections with people whose lives are important to me. Life is so hard, yet so magical."
After a year and a half battle with crippling chronic Lyme disease, Andrea passed away on April 6. She left behind her husband, son Christopher, 11, and daughter Maeve, 9, and dozens of beloved family members. She was an amazing, loving mother who also had a wider family: the hundreds of people she met, connected to, and bestowed her kindness upon.
Added her husband John: "When she wrote you a postcard, she'd fill up the space with a message and then continue along the edges and up the side using smaller and smaller handwriting until you needed a magnifying glass to read her parting words. Even then she had more to say, more to give, such a powerful desire for connection and friendship."
A memorial service will be held at 10 am Monday, April 16, at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Literacy Project or the International Language Institute. To share thoughts, photos and memories of Andrea, please visit the link below: http://memorialwebsites.legacy.com/andrearaphael/homepage.aspx
Published in The Recorder on Apr. 13, 2012