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Student remembered for big heart, outgoing spirit

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Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 12:00 am

UF student Starr Bishop was a straight-shooter who loved the outdoors. She snow skied and skydived. She even spoke out in a town meeting against a proposed parking garage that would block access to the St. Johns River, which flows through Jacksonville, her hometown. It was an argument she won.

So it wasn't surprising when she chose to build a set of outdoor swings last fall as her school project. Her goal was to push children to play outside instead of watching a TV screen.

Starr, a third-year architecture major, completed her project before she died on March 14 of Lou Gehrig's disease, which affects the brain and spinal cord's nerve cells.

Meghan O'Reilly and Gail Milano, the UF graduate students who helped Starr complete her project last fall, hung the swings in the architecture building's atrium to honor her.

"She was so much more about continuing on with life than being sick," O'Reilly said. "She was so funny and talented."

In March 2008, Starr was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease on Good Friday. She was 20 years old.

She continued to attend UF, however.

As it progressed, the disease affected Starr's ability to speak, swallow and, at times, raise her arms. So in order to continue work on her project, she hired O'Reilly and Milano through UF's Disability Resource Center to help.

Melody Bishop, Starr's mother,s said she didn't even know Starr was working on the project until she saw the private on-campus studio O'Reilly and Milano built for Starr during a visit to Gainesville.

"She never tooted her own horn," Bishop said.

But Starr's project wasn't the only thing Bishop was unaware of.

While Bishop said she knew her daughter would always go out of her way to include others, she has been overwhelmed by the number of people who have e-mailed, called and written letters describing how Starr impacted their lives.

Bishop recalled a two-page letter written by the father of a friend of Starr's who recounted the first time he met her during dinner with him and his daughter, who had just moved to Gainesville.

"He was so impressed," Bishop said in a voice thick with emotion, "He was so impressed by her lovingness and kindness."

Jenny Sprunt, a friend of Starr's, said the two met freshman year of high school, where they competed in science fairs together.

"She had more personality in her pinky finger than some people have in their whole body," Sprunt said, adding Starr could be friends with anyone.

"She was outgoing, bubbly and sporty,"Sprunt said. "She was very honest. She would tell you how it is, a real straight-shooter."

Bishop agreed. She said when Starr was young, she chastised her mother, who lost her temper and was rude to a store clerk.

"She said, 'Mom, you weren't very nice in there,'" Bishop said. "She always remembered the right things to do."

By December, Starr's disease had become so aggressive she had to move home to Jacksonville. However, because she could still type, she remained enrolled by taking online classes.

"She never gave up," Bishop said. "She always wanted to be a student. She loved Gainesville and the Gators."

Bishop added Starr was a football fan and started attending Gator games with her family when she was 2 years old.

Once Starr went into respiratory failure on March 4, she was in a coma for 10 days before her parent's chose to have her taken off life support.

"She ended up donating her heart, both lungs, liver and kidney," Bishop said. "So somebody out there has a really great heart."

UF's architecture department plans to hold a memorial in honor of Starr later on in the semester.

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