We lost a world-changer today. Rebecca Breeden passed away this morning of cancer, but not before brightening the world and leaving her utterly unique, libertarian, loving mark every where she went.
I hired Rebecca to be assistant managing editor of 225 magazine in 2006, and she had an immediate and lasting affect on the magazine. She questioned authority, she tackled difficult stories with bravery and resolve and she fought injustices, large and small.
Then in 2009, with only a friend’s sofa to crash on and a fearless spirit, she resigned her job and moved to New York City. It was while living there that she landed a job working on the National September 11 Memorial. Her job was confirming the identities of the thousands of victims whose names eventually would be permanently engraved into the memorial itself. It was grueling, gut-wrenching work that meant poring over confidential files filled with intimate, exquisitely painful letters written by survivors, plus details of the awful deaths of their loved ones. Rebecca approached that work with solemn, respectful diligence.
Her cancer diagnosis was sudden, and before the monument was even built, she was forced to pack up and return home to Pride to be near family and friends for her treatment. She endured surgeries and grueling chemo with poise and dignity, always more concerned about her friends and family than herself.
She fought hard for two years, but this summer the cancer returned with a vengeance.
Sensing the end was probably near, her friends and family mobilized swiftly, raising money to fly her to New York City to visit the finished memorial she helped create.
It’s only fitting that her last work for 225 was a recent story about some absurd local ordinances regulating businesses that serve alcohol.
In part because of the attention Rebecca’s story brought to the issue, city-parish officials came to their senses and corrected an absurdity in local regulation.
Rebecca was already sick and in pain when she took on the assignment. But even such a modest injustice was enough to fire her up to report, write and tell that story.
If you were fortunate enough ever to have basked in her infectious smile—it was so magnificently wide that her face warped sideways just trying to contain the thing—the very memory of it will comfort you in your grief.
Rebecca was a beam of light, an agent for change. With poise, compassion and effortless Southern charm, she challenged all of us to be better leaders, better friends, better parents, better people. Her years may have been cut short by cancer, but she affected and changed the world and made it a better place.
She may have come from the tiny community of Pride, but Rebecca managed to impact lives as far away as New York City. But all the while, she maintained and nurtured her deep, loving roots.
She never forgot where she came from. Everyone who knew her will never forget her either.