The United Church of Rowayton overflowed Saturday morning with the friends, family and students of Eliza Oliver, the Rowayton Elementary School teacher who died suddenly in late September.
"Her heart was huge, and she knew how to make others feel special," said Mary Jo von der Heyde, a fellow teacher at the school. Oliver, who grew up in Rowayton, was remembered as a loyal friend, devoted family member, a passionate teacher and an adventurous traveler.
"Her love for teaching was contagious," Liz Algiere, a teacher who mentored in her classroom, said of Oliver. "She bonded with everyone. Other teachers would pop their heads her in her classroom throughout the day."
To commemorate Oliver's safari to Africa, Pastor John Livingston led the congregation in a chant of a popular children's poem "I'm Going on a Lion Hunt." Everyone adults and children stood up and acted out the song. "Going on a lion hunt, Gonna catch a big one. I'm not scared. Look at all the flowers. Nice day," echoed through the church.
Leopard bracelets were passed out during the service. Livingston also sang Oliver's favorite song, "You've Got a Friend," made popular by James Taylor.
Linda Ferguson, one of the speakers at the memorial service, lost her husband on Sept. 11. She said Oliver was a "best friend to our family" and came by regularly after her husband died. "Not a day goes by that we won't think of you," she said.
The entire Rowayton Elementary school staff attended the service, including principal Sarah Reilly.
"I've received email from people in graduate school and college remembering Eliza," Reilly said. "Just think about the number of lives she affected. She stood up for the rights of all children."
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