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Sharing the Light: in loving memory of Carol Willoughby (1950- 2015)

Courage is more than lighting a single candle against the darkness; true courage is lighting that candle, and having the grace to pass its light to another. Carol Willoughby taught me this. Carol lived with the challenges of rheumatoid arthritis for many years. Yet her lesson – her light—transformed my life.

As a child born with cerebral palsy, I spent years struggling to cope with physical and emotional challenges. I was afraid that other people would see my disabled body and decide there wasn’t enough to love in the person they saw. I didn’t know how to believe in myself, so I took refuge in silence and shadows.

Even as I faced these life challenges, Carol was discovering her own life’s dream. The dream that began around her kitchen table grew … until it began to ignite dreams for others. By the time my husband and I moved to Roanoke, Virginia, Saint Francis Service Dogs had just become a reality—one supported by amazing professionals and volunteers throughout the community. Carol’s enthusiasm and leadership made it all possible.

My life turned brighter from the first moment Carol became a part of it. By her own beautiful example, Carol taught me to define myself not by what I must overcome, but by what I have the strength to become. Because of her, I have discovered possibilities where once I encountered only obstacles. Such discoveries have brought me a sense of purpose and joy.

Carol’s light has brightened my journey beyond compare. It also shines brilliantly through her family, through her dear friends, and through the amazing legacy that is Saint Francis Service Dogs. I feel Carol’s light when I remember my beloved Saint Francis Service Dogs, Kenda and Pato. I see it now when I look into the eyes of my new service dog, Piper.

Carol’s light also illuminates the lives of many others. It touches the little boy whose dog alerts prior to his life-threatening seizures so that his family can provide the critical intervention he needs. It touches the elegant lady who credits her service dog with helping her recover her ‘inner diva’ in spite of M.S. It touches the spirited teenager with cerebral palsy whose hospital visits are easier and less frequent thanks to his service dog.

I know that many hearts join me in grieving the loss of Carol Willoughby now. How could we not? Yet throughout her life, Carol showed us all that a gift is most beautiful when it is shared …

Thank you, Carol, for the countless gifts you offered – your love, your joy, your laughter, and your inspiration. Most of all, thank you for sharing your light. That light glows in many loving hearts now. It always will.

Together, we shine!

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