This statement was shared by one young man at Yvonne’s Celebration of Life and in many ways, it aptly expresses the spirit that radiated from this young woman. I have met people blessed with charisma before, but Yvonne took charisma to a whole new level. As several speakers made clear, we were instantly drawn to her, and were better for the encounter. Yvonne had a welcoming, easy-going nature – you knew you would not be judged.
Yvonne was a child, about 13-years-old, when I arrived in Springfield, 10 years ago. Even then, she was a bright presence among the youth of the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation; she had an irresistible smile, and a heart to match. I honestly believe that she was one of the sweetest – and most confident -- young people I have met. If she was afraid of performing in public, she never betrayed even a flicker of self-consciousness.
After she graduated from Rochester High School, her life was coming into focus. Yvonne was studying Global Studies at the University of Illinois in Springfield. She had joined Greenpeace. She was taking an interest in filmography. More significantly, she had married Nicholas Tyson on April 7, 2012. When they wed, Nicholas’ vows were: “There are over 50,000 words in this dictionary … none come close enough to describe how beautiful you are and how beautiful you make me feel; I love you Yvonne forever.”
Nicholas shared that Yvonne had an knack for always getting any job she wanted. “The first time she told me she had an interview, I wished her luck. She came back and told me she got the job. GREAT. She always had the same result. Then I asked myself, “How is she doing this?” Yvonne answered by relating a time when she didn’t get a particular job with Greenpeace. She had taken the train to Chicago and realized that she was the only applicant in the waiting room without a four-year degree. Instead of excusing herself and going home, she waited her turn for her interview and went for it, fighting for what she wanted.
About a month before her death, she and Nicholas explored the possibility of joining the Peace Corps. When she discovered that Peace Corps volunteers are only allowed to take two suitcases apiece to their assignment, her resolve was only strengthened.
One of her friends, Renee Houser-Anderson shared that “Yvonne had a brilliant mind, enlightened beyond her years. Passionate and committed to justice, strong morals, patient and understanding. Generous, spiritual, nurturing of others and of course, she had deep devotion and love for her husband, family and friends. Her Truth, uncritical acceptance and love made her who she was and gave those words a deeper meaning. It didn’t matter if you only met Yvonne once, she still made a lasting impression that you remember forever.”
Her Celebration of Life drew more than 300 friends and family members together. As is our custom, people are invited to share anecdotes and reflections. Nearly two dozen did so. One person commented on her fashion sense, her belts and unique style, which drew some approving laughs. Another woman who had known Yvonne through her dancing, shared a revealing anecdote: the occasion involved a time when the group was rehearsing for a public performance. All the dancers wore baskets of fruit on their heads, like hats. When one of the dancers lost her balance, the basket fell to the floor with a loud crash, its contents spilling out across the floor. One dancer asked, what do we do if that happens during the performance? Without hesitation, Yvonne declared, “Then we all take off our hats and throw them to the floor!”
Yvonne Louise Salay-Tyson was killed suddenly on Saturday, Nov. 3 as she was heading to work in Rushville. The driver of the other vehicle was arrested for driving under the influence.
In addition to Nicholas, she is survived by her parents, Jim and Terri Woodliff, grandparents, a brother Eric Woodliff, and two sisters, Sydney and Elise Woodliff, as well as two stepsisters, Cassie Saenz and Jenna Fisher.
All who knew her would likely agree with this assessment by Buffy Lael, one of Yvonne’s former youth advisors: “The world has lost a mighty girl, today. The world has lost a mighty girl.”
–Rev. Martin Woulfe, ALUUC with Nicholas Tyson, Terri Woodliff and Renee Houser-Anderson