About Shelley Goldsmith

“I always knew that my daughter Shelley was a star. I found out yesterday that she was a shooting star with only a few brief moments to walk the Earth.”

— Shelley’s Dad, September 1, 2013

Shelley loved cupcakes.

Shelley was a happy, healthy, academically strong, well-adjusted college student who had just completed the first week of her second year at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, VA. She was a proud young woman full of self-confidence who stood tall for what she believed. As a starry-eyed idealist, she knew with certainty that her education would train her to work for justice in the world. Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that I just recently learned. It means repairing or healing the world. Had she known the words, Shelley would have adopted them as her mantra.

At the age of eight, a month after the bombing of the World Trade Center (which coincidentally happened on her birthday, 9/11), she wrote the following poem as a reaction to the popular outcry in the US at that time, asking God to bless America:


The World is more than America.
There are a lot of religions in the World and God believes in them all.
God does not just love us; he loves India, Asia and the whole World.
God would not have made the World if he did not believe that we could improve it.
Everyone has a goal and mine is to make the World a better place.
Everyone is a brother or sister to each other.
It is selfish to think that God just blesses your country.
God bless the World.

— Shelley Goldsmith, 2nd grade, age 8

Needless to say, her Dad and I believed early on that she was destined to do great things.

Shelley was born on September 11, 1993 and was raised in rural southwest Virginia. She was our only daughter, the younger of two children, and part of a loving family and close-knit community. She excelled academically from the time she started school. She eagerly accepted the concept that if you followed the rules, worked very hard, and respected other people, life would be fair and good.

-1And, it was for the most part. Shelley did well at almost everything she set her mind to. She was ‘Clara’ in The Nutcracker when she was only ten years old. In middle school, was chosen to serve on the honors court. She was president of the various student councils that she served on from elementary school through her senior year. She was captain of both the women’s and men’s tennis teams. She led the high-adventure Venture Crew as a junior.

But, it wasn’t just about being at the top. The motto Shelley embraced at an early age was written by Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” She personified that standard, volunteering and helping others, long before ‘community service’ became the popular thing to do. She was devoted to making the world a better place.

Here are a few examples of her infinite capacity to help others:

  • Her first year at UVA, she helped refugees learn conversational English.
  • In support of a close friend, she advocated for a gay-straight alliance club at her high school (which in a rural area such as ours created a tremendous amount of push back, including threat of a law suit against her personally).
  • When her Dad was undergoing chemo treatment, she baked cupcakes for the other cancer patients.
  • She organized an ongoing volunteer program through the high school to staff the local food bank on a predictable basis.
  • During the 2010 Queen of Hearts American Heart Association campaign, she personally raised $11,300.

And, she always found a way to celebrate a friend’s birthday in some fabulous way!

Her loyalty to her friends, self-discipline, activism, and supportive and positive spirit, earned her the love of her friends and the respect of her peers and elders alike. As her mom, she was truly a blessing to me.

Shelley had many interests. Shelley reveled in the natural beauty of southwest Virginia. She liked nothing more than to spend weekends hiking the trails, sailing the mountain lakes, and kayaking our pristine rivers. She also embraced the best parts of growing up on our 10 acres of secluded woodland – many pets, a creek in the back, campfires, raspberries, driving a tractor, honey suckle nectar, a zip line and hammock in the woods. She also was a pretty good shot with a rifle. Her friends were constantly amazed at the things that their fashion conscious, chic, feminine friend could do. They learned early on that there was more to that sweet smile and pretty face than meets the eye!

-4Of all that she had done in her short life, Shelley was probably most proud of being awarded the prestigious Jefferson Scholarship at UVA. She was tremendously honored, and knew that it was the beginning of a great life as a young adult at a school she loved. She vowed to me that she would support the Foundation as they had her and hopefully sponsor a “Jeff” in the future.

She was a loyal and generous friend to many. At her memorial service, many people spoke publicly and privately with me about how she was their ‘best friend’; how she was always there for them when they needed her; and, how she was always in the moment and never distracted when they talked.

Shelley would never forgive me if I didn’t mention her deep devotion to her sorority, her sisters and the sisterhood they shared. A whole family of girlfriends! It was a dream come true for her.

She was an attentive, loving daughter who treasured her family.

So, this was my precious Shelley – a delightful young woman with great promise whose love of life was contagious. In her short time with us, she made a difference in many lives. Certainly, I am a better person for having known her.

As a friend of mine of said of Shelley after she died, “A virtuous life – life well lived – is measured not in longevity but rather in the joy, love and kindness it brought to and inspired others.” A virtuous life, indeed.