Debbie Pearsall’s friends, mentors and members of the administration filled Packer Memorial Church Thursday night to remember an exuberant personality who left an indelible mark on the university in her brief time at Lehigh.
Pearsall, who died Jan. 28 following a brief illness, was lovingly described in a series of touching and sometimes tearful tributes to a student who was “alive, filled with energy, and confidence….who lived loud and had fun,” as University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen put it.
After a turbulent fall semester that saw an earthquake, an ice storm that shut down the campus and a meningitis outbreak, the campus was settling into a new semester, said Steffen in his opening remarks. “There are times when we welcome routine. Then came word of an illness, then a hospitalization, and then word went out that Debbie Pearsall, a formidable and vibrant young woman whom many on this campus knew well, had died.”
Journalism Professor Jeremy Littau remembered his first encounter with Pearsall, who quickly distinguished herself as one of his most promising students. “She stood out from the beginning,” said her advisor and mentor. “She had enormous confidence. She believed in herself a lot.”
Littau told those gathered that he spent the past few days re-reading emails from Pearsall, and that he drew wisdom from the exchanges. As someone so precocious and determined, he said, Pearsall occasionally found herself in situations where success didn’t come easily.
“She taught me failure was good, and that you could turn these learning experiences into strength,” he said. “I learned persistence from her. I never met a more persistent person. And she took on all kinds of challenges. She was fearless.”
‘Everyone has a Debbie story’
Lehigh University Police Chief Ed Shupp remembered a fiercely determined and passionate editor of The Brown and White, who ultimately became a strong student ambassador for his department as a result of the news articles and editorials she wrote. Beyond that, Shupp said, Pearsall was one of the most outgoing members of the Lehigh community.
“You would always see a smile on her face and she was always willing to help and go out of her way to say hello,” he said. “It is now up to all of us to continue to move forward in the direction she has set for us. The bar she set is high. She is looking down at us right now saying: ‘There is still work to do. It’s time to get going. No time to waste.’”
Friend Alexa Williams ’12 offered tribute to Pearsall’s playful sense of humor and her ability to make life simple.
“She was an awesome friend who was loyal, caring, trustworthy, and someone who never judged,” said Williams. “She was someone I could always count on.”
Everyone knew her, she added, and “everyone has a Debbie story.”
Presidential Scholar Carly Potock ’11 said Pearsall taught her “it’s OK to be loud and proud. She thought, ‘I’m awesome just the way I am.’”
Matt Breitel ’12 worked closely with Pearsall when she served as editor of The Brown and White and he was her photo editor. Her occasionally tough outer shell, he said, “hid one of the most caring people you’ll ever meet.”
In one of the most emotional tributes of the service, close friend Mary Nunley ’12 tearfully remembered happy moments the two shared over the course of their time together at Lehigh. “We’ll never forget you, Debbie,” she said. “There’s no way we ever could.”
Nunley joined with fellow members of Zeta Tau Alpha—the sorority Pearsall co-founded—in presenting a sorority pin to Pearsall’s parents, who joined with other family members in welcoming attendees at a reception in the STEPS lobby after the ceremony.
Rabbi Seth Goren concluded the ceremony with “The Mourner’s Kaddish,” a traditional Jewish prayer.
“We have lost a good friend,” Steffen concluded. “But still this a moment to rejoice in this wonderful life that touched so many.”