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(Courtesy Valerie Moga)

(Courtesy Valerie Moga)

University of Massachusetts student Jane Elizabeth Burton passed away far from campus, in El Paso, Texas, just before the start of the fall 2009 semester. Her death was not a quiet one – automobile accidents never are – yet only those whose lives she touched felt the immediate impact. Because the University was still out of session on Sept. 1 when Burton passed, no notification was sent to the campus community at large.

Now her friends and coworkers have organized a fundraiser as a local memorial.

On Wednesday, Oct. 14, Golden Booty Tanning Resort in Amherst, where Jane had worked since August 2008, is holding “A Day In Remembrance of Jane Burton.” From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. the salon will offer half priced tanning, with a portion of the proceeds going to an account on the microlending website Kiva.org that has been set up in Jane’s honor.

A tragic accident

Burton was returning from her mother’s house in Tucson, Ariz. with her friend, UMass student Mary Rafferty, on Wednesday, Aug. 26. She had just purchased a new car and was insisting on driving the over 2,000 miles back to Amherst. Burton had had three accidents previously, but the most serious one happened with her in the passenger seat, and she had taken automobile classes upon the insistence of her mother, Anastasia Siavou-Holler, and her stepfather, Eric Holler.

“Eric made sure she knew how to use every tool that she would possibly need,” Burton’s sister, Valerie Moga said in an interview.

According to Moga, Rafferty and Burton had been on the road fewer than three hours when Jane’s car, which she had purchased just a few weeks prior, began to drift off the road. Burton cut the wheel back a little too sharply, and the vehicle flipped several times, injuring the two and pinning Burton beneath the car.

Rafferty was treated for minor injuries in an Arizona hospital, but Burton had to be transported by medivac to the intensive care unit at University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. She had sustained severe injuries to her eye socket, clavicle, left arm, spine and legs. Her family flew out to Texas 6 a.m. the next morning, though doctors told Jane’s father, Tim Burton, that she wouldn’t likely live longer than three hours.

Jane lived five more days.

“The only thing she had going for her was that she was young, and her body was strong. That was the only thing that kept her going,” Moga said.

On Friday, Aug. 28, Jane was put into a chemically-induced coma to ease swelling in her brain. Moga said that Jane’s body fought to stay alive, but her condition was deteriorating. By Sunday, Sept. 1, Jane’s condition had not improved, and her parents made the decision to donate her organs.

“They decided that they wanted to do the organ donation because of Jane’s wishes to help others. Jane was too young to have a living will – I’m 27 and I don’t have one – so they had to make the decision according to what they thought she would have wanted.”

Moga said Jane’s donation had saved three other lives.

Honoring a friend and coworker

September was a particularly tragic month on the UMass campus.

On September 10, visiting French student Peter Boutarel was struck and killed by an Amtrak train. Just two days later, UMass student Blake Goodman was struck and killed in a hit and run while riding his bicycle in North Amherst. E-mails from Dean of Students Jo-Anne T. Vanin and stories in The Daily Collegian informed the community of the two tragic losses.

But because Jane passed just over a week before classes began, on Sept. 8 – and because it happened so far from Amherst – the campus was not immediately notified about Jane’s passing.

“It is not customary for the University to send all campus emails when students pass away during the summer, and this is why no notification about Jane’s passing was sent out,” Vanin said Tuesday.

Many of Jane’s friends found out from her family and one another on Facebook. Micro-memorials sprung up on her Facebook page – to which she had just recently added a photo of her beaming in front of her new car, a used Nissan – by the dozens.

Her friend Alexa Booth, a UMass junior and good friend of Jane’s, said she found out from text messages from her friends, and a note on another friend’s Facebook.

“It was very strange for me,” Booth said. “We’ve already had three deaths this semester, but people only knew about two.”

On Oct. 3, a memorial service was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Dedham, where Tim Burton lives with his wife Hilary. On the back of memorial program was a link to the Kiva.org account, kiva.org/team/people_who_love_jane.

“My wife had recently discovered Kiva and introduced Jane to it, and she took a real interest in it,” Tim Burton said. “It’s a really unique way to help individuals help themselves.”

Kiva is a microlending site that connects people with entrepreneurs around the world and allows them to loan as much or as little as they can. Tim Burton calls it “a type of philanthropy with a considerable amount of dignity.”

In the about section of the account page, they wrote: “People who want to honor Jane by helping to improve the lives of others…” As of Oct. 13, it had generated $350.

After the memorial service in Dedham, Jane’s friends and coworkers from Amherst decided they needed to do something more local to honor her memory.

“Jane became not only an employee but a very good friend to our employees, my daughters and myself,” said Kim Gomes, who co-owns Golden Booty Tanning Resort with her daughter Eden Clark. “She was involved with things outside of the salon on a personal level with my family, so we thought we would try to do what we could.”

Moga, who described her sister as her “best friend,” said Jane spoke often of her friends at the salon.

“She told me that [Kim] would introduce Jane to people as her Greek daughter,” she said.

If the memorial fundraiser is a success, Gomes said she’d like to make it a more permanent fixture.

“This is something we might try to do every year, ongoing, to raise macroloans for this organization,” she said.

Remembering a sister and daughter

When asked to reflect on the life of Jane Elizabeth Burton, her friends, family and coworkers couldn’t immediately find the right terms. The words “Like, amazing” abounded. Eventually they found their footing.

“She was just smiling always, being social and wanting others to be happy,” her friend Booth said.

Tim Burton recalled a woman who was, from childhood, “very kind, very perceptive.”

“From being a very small child, she was the sort to be giving gentle and very sound advice to her mother and her sister,” he said, pausing, then adding “– and occasional observations to me.”

Moga reinforced her father’s impression.

“She possessed a certain level of wisdom that made it easy to talk to her,” she said. “When she was 10 years old, I remember her having given me the best advice I have yet to receive.”

Moga recalled a recent Christmas when Jane couldn’t think of what to get her. She told Jane she needed bookends.

“Instead of one set of bookends she sent me two sets,” Moga said.

“A Day In Remembrance of Jane Burton.” will be held at Golden Booty Tanning Resort in New Market Center, 6 University Dr., Amherst, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Kiva.org page in Burton’s memory can be found at http://kiva.org/team/people_who_love_jane.

S.P. Sullivan can be reached at spsulliv@dailycollegian.com.

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