A University student died in a car accident Monday while studying abroad in South Africa.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed the passing of LSA junior Rachel Smylie in a statement Tuesday. Smylie was in a car with members of her study abroad group while on a spring break trip to a national park in northern Namibia at the time. He said there are no other reports of fatalities from the incident and no other University students were in her group.
Smylie had been studying in Cape Town, South Africa with the Council on International Educational Exchange. While the program is run outside the University, Fitzgerald said many University students participate in it.
As a student, Smylie was highly involved in volunteer work both in Ann Arbor and Cape Town, working at the local HIV/Aids Resource Center in Washtenaw County and doing similar work in South Africa. She was also active in her sorority, Alpha Phi, serving as house manager last year. She was also selected as one of the Rho Omegas, a group that helps new members through the Greek recruitment process.
Business sophomore Elizabeth Griffith, Alpha Phi president, released in a personal statement Tuesday lauding Smylie’s friendship and involvement on campus.
“Rachel had an amazing spirit and a presence that captivated everyone around her,” she wrote. “She is very loved and missed dearly.”
After taking his class “Memoir and Social Crisis” last fall, Smylie developed a close relationship with English Prof. Ralph Williams. Williams said Smylie would often meet him during office hours for discussions that went beyond the curriculum, diving deeper into certain authors, sharing personal stories and offering book recommendations to each other.
“What remains with me most deeply is her enormous human sympathy: she felt from the inside of others’ lives, with principled and active care,” Williams wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. “My last message to her was one written in late January and ended with a farewell which I often give my students: ‘Go in happiness, stay in joy, and return in safety.’ It breaks my heart that she could not do that last.”
The Alpha Phi sorority sisters hosted a candlelight vigil at their house late Tuesday night commemorating Smylie’s life and her impact on the University community.