Antigonish native died Dec. 29 while volunteering in Tanzania, Africa
Originally published in The Casket, Jan. 8, 2014.
“I am breaking tradition in order to make a change in someone’s life,” Melissa Landry, a fourth year Human Kinetics student wrote on gofundme.com about a volunteer trip to Tanzania.
Landry’s trip was expected to last until Dec. 31. Two days before she was expected home, she died as a result of a motorcycle and taxi collision.
“She was always after an adventure,” Annie MacEachern, one of Landry’s close friends and former roommate, said.
“It wasn’t out of character for her to help other people and the fact she was willing to give up her Christmas with her family to help someone else? That wasn’t surprising to me at all.”
Landry, 21, was volunteering with International Volunteer HQ’s orphanage program in Arusha, Tanzania. She began her volunteer work Dec. 15 and was helping prepare meals and arranging games for the children at the orphanage as well as teaching English.
International Volunteer HQ executive director Daniel Radcliffe said Landry was “a great volunteer, a beautiful person and she will be missed by the people she worked with in Tanzania and those she helped.”
A PASSION FOR PEOPLE
Landry’s gofundme.com page for donations to her trip said “help me help others.”
Long-time friends MacEachern and Lindsey Chisholm, both StFX students, described Landry as having a drive for adventure and a passion for helping others. Landry’s trip to Africa wasn’t a surprise to them.
“She wanted to take everything in and learn about the world and how to make it better,” Chisholm said. “She had a real passion for adventure and for other people no matter who they were.”
MacEachern said it’s hard to put her friend into words.
“She was so welcoming to so many people and always saw the good in everyone,” she said. “It’s hard to describe her. I want to tell people everything I can about her but there are so many great qualities she had and it’s overwhelming to try and get that across.”
MacEachern said that throughout high school, she, Chisholm and Landry were part of a group of 14 close friends. They remain close today, though some moved away for university.
One of the qualities MacEachern admired in Landry was her ability to make friends.
“The number of relationships I have in my life because Melissa invited them into hers first, it’s just amazing,” MacEachern said. “She was always off laughing with someone new.”
And passing up Christmas at home with family to travel to Africa and help those in need wasn’t something out of character for the former StFX volleyball player and human kinetics student.
“This was just another idea of her going on an adventure and doing something meaningful,” Chisholm said. “I wasn’t surprised. I saw her get the travel bug when we were traveling [in Europe, summer of 2013] and she wanted to do more and more.
“It wasn’t the first thing that came to our minds when she said she was doing something but when she told us it was just like ‘yeah. This makes sense. It’s Melissa.’”
‘ALL HER TIME, SHE GAVE IT BACK’
Landry isn’t only leaving behind a close-knit group of friends and an even closer family.
MacEachern said Landry’s death is a loss for the whole StFX community, and Antigonish as a whole.
Landry volunteered each Friday at StFX’s Fit 4 Tots program, was a coach with the Town of Antigonish’s summer soccer programs for children, helped with a disabled student at StFX and high school volleyball programs.
“She was a great role model, someone who gave back to the program that gave her so much,” Chisholm said about Landry’s athletic career. “She gave back to the community and was always helping with youth, and I think that’s going to be missed, that presence.
I know how much I’m going to miss her, and I’m only one person.”
Angie Kolen, a human kinetics professor at StFX, said she was struggling to figure out how she was going to act on the first day back in class Jan. 6 and how she should address the loss StFX is feeling.
“She was quiet, but strong academically,” Kolen said. “She wasn’t the first to speak out in class, but when she did, you could tell other students respected what she said. She was intelligent.”
Kolen, who runs the Fit 4 Tots program, said she saw Landry shine when she was in the gym.
The program creates an “indoor playland” for children under five.
“She shone in that,” Kolen said. “I can actually picture her smiling and playing in the gym right now. It was a place she was happy to be in.”
Kolen said as part of her fourth year class, where community work is required, Landry wrote a “beautiful reflection” on the program. Kolen said her mark was in the high 80s.
“That project showed the type of student she was. You could feel her passion through her words, and her writing was outstanding.”
#9, X-WOMEN VOLLEYBALL
Landry didn’t only excel academically, but athletically, as well.
Playing volleyball for the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School set her up for success with the X-Women in 2011-2013. In 11 regular season matches in the 2012-13 school year, Landry was sixth overall in the AUS conference with 327 assists. Her year included 34.5 points, 17 kills and 76 digs.
“Melissa was a poster child for what a student athlete should be,” director of athletics and recreation for StFX Leo MacPherson said. “She excelled in the classroom, she was a valued member of the volleyball team, she was great for jumping to give back in the community and an aspiring young leader. That’s what we would hope for in any of our student athletes.”
MacPherson said Landry was dedicated to volleyball and worked hard to excel at the game.
Michelle Aucoin, a former StFX volleyball coach, said she was one of the strongest natural athletes she’s ever coached.
Aucoin said Landry was always willing to work hard and logged countless hours in the gym on top of game time and her school work.
She said her biggest asset on the team, though, was the respect she had for her teammates, and their respect for her.
“She was an incredible woman of words. When she had something to say it was important, and people listened,” she said. “Her teammates, even her seniors, looked up to her strength and game.”
MacEachern said that while the two were roommates in their first year of university, Landry completed a team-building project where she wrote about each member of her team.
“Her words showed the respect she had for those girls and how they were her second family,” she said. “Volleyball was part of who she was. She loved it.”
Both MacEachern and Chisholm said having such a strong group of friends has made grieving and understanding Landry’s death easier.
“She has brought our group stronger and closer than we’ve ever been,” MacEachern said.
But those that aren’t in the group of 14 that have stuck together since high school have also been sharing memories.
“We’ve had people reach out that we don’t really know that well, but then, Melissa was the type of person where you ask yourself ‘who didn’t she know?’ Whose life didn’t she touch?’”
Chisholm said though the loss isn’t easy for family or friends, she believes having a support network and countless people touched by Landry’s life makes it a little easier.
“I hope that the memories she’s left will still help others and inspire others,” Chisholm said. “In that way, it’s going to be amazing for the community to come together and celebrate the amazing life she had.
“Way too short, but it was an amazing life.”
The wake for Landry will be held Thursday (7-9 p.m.) and Friday, Jan. 10 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at C.L. Curry Funeral Home. The funeral will be held Saturday, Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. at St. Ninian Cathedral.