'A living memorial': JHS plants tree in Carson's memory

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Rachel Carson was passion personified.

Johnston Music Department director Ron Lamoureux, choral director Matt Gingras and music teacher Oliver Reid were all close with Rachel, who passed away in Feburary 2018. She was a perennial All-State musician dating back to middle school, and Gingras made it clear that she was fully committed to every task.

Rachel played bass clarinet in the band, and she had taken piano classes with Gingras. She also took part in a cappella.

“Rachel was a passionate person,” Gingras said. “She loved whatever she did. She was really sassy and funny, but whenever she was into something, she was all in. She was really energetic.”

“The word ‘mediocre’ didn’t exist in her vocabulary,” Reid said. “If she was going to bother to do it, she was going to do it, and you had better be prepared to do it with her as a teacher.”

To honor Rachel’s memory, a red maple tree has been planted just to the right of the music department’s wing at Johnston High School. The official ceremony took place late last month, with her parents, Kevin and Mardee, and grandmother in attendance.

It was a fitting tribute for Rachel, who was named after the famous environmentalist. Lamoureux said she had a particular affinity for nature. After she passed last year, students took up a collection and donated the proceeds to the Audubon Society.

“She was really active in outdoors,” Lamoureux said. “Her major at Maine was going to be environmental science. They have planted a bunch of trees in a lot of different places in her honor, so I’m glad we got this one here. I just kind of wish it was over here so we could look at it.”

Kevin Carson, who is a pastor, offered a brief reading at the dedication service. He said he hopes the tree will “grow tall and strong in her memory” and become a home for birds, insects and other animals for which she cared so deeply.

“Rachel loved the forest and dreamed of becoming a wildlife ecologist to study forest ecosystems and help protect them, so over the last 16 months, we have donated to several organizations to plant trees in her memory,” he said. “But this one is very special. Planting a tree in her memory at the school she loves so dearly seems so appropriate, and I want to thank everyone who made it possible.

He added, “Rachel, you are so loved and so deeply missed. May those of us who mourn your absence find comfort in knowing that this tree will be a living memorial to your spirit and your deep love of nature.”

Reid said he had Rachel in homeroom for three years before having her in a class as a senior. He said she was always willing to share her artwork, science projects and opinions on various matters.

He said everyone had to be ready when they had a conversation with Rachel, since she always came equipped with the right questions.

“She would follow up the next day like, ‘Yeah, I looked up that thing you said, and it turns out you don't know what you're talking about,’” Reid said with a smile. “She always kept you on your toes. The answer you gave was not, ‘Oh, thanks for answering that,’ and she was going to go away. You had to know what you were talking about.”

“Even when I had her in music production, she would bring up stuff and I’d say, ‘No one’s ever done that before, and I don’t know how to do that. I’m going to have to go home and learn how to do that myself because we don’t split atoms in here,’” he added with a laugh.

It was that sense of accountability and passion that made Rachel an extraordinary student and person.

“You were going to teach her, she expected a give and take and she expected you to challenge her,” Reid said.

Gingras said Rachel’s most prominent characteristic inspired the question on the scholarship named in her memory: What is your passion and how does it drive you? Rachel went all in on every goal in front of her, so the recipient had to reflect that quality as well.

Ivan Fernandez won the scholarship this year.

“Even when we were reading the applications, you think you know what passion is, but when it’s just something you do, I think that’s what passion is,” Gingras said. “It’s just something that becomes part of what you do and you don’t question doing it, you just do it. And that’s kind of how she was.”

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