That is a fitting epitaph for one of the greatest people I have met — someone who didn’t just decide to turn metaphorical lemons into lemonade, but who used that lemonade to refresh the world.
Actually, she would be perturbed at me for calling her Victoria. That was what her mother called her when she was angry, she told me once after I had used the name in a column. To her friends, she was Vickie.
Vickie would laughingly refer to herself as “the turkey lady,” a touch of humor that is truly remarkable considering how she earned the title. She was driving along a highway on Long Island one night when an 18-year-old, in a car coming the opposite way, threw a frozen turkey that shattered her windshield and her face, nearly killing her outright.
The assailant, Ryan Cushing, and his friends had stolen a credit card, which had prompted a shopping spree, which led to buying the turkey and the thoughtless, devastating act.
If you’ve heard this story before, that is a testament to the incredible decisions Vickie made afterward. She spent weeks in a coma, and many more months in surgeries and therapy. But when she learned that Cushing was facing a possible 25-year prison sentence, and that his friends were going to testify against him, she began to pester prosecutors for information about him.
How was he raised? Why did he do this thing? Was he reacting to peer pressure? Was it a question of youthful, immature impulse?
Then she made a decision that changed not only her life, but the lives of countless people she had never met. She decided to forgive.
Vickie insisted on a plea deal — six months in the county jail and 5 years of probation — in exchange for a guilty plea. In a courtroom scene that had many onlookers fighting back tears, she embraced Cushing, telling him, “I just want you to make your life the best it can be.” Witnesses said he apologized as he sobbed loudly.
Media, prosecutors and behavioral experts tend to focus too much on the ripple effects of evil. When a particularly horrendous crime is committed, we talk about how it influences others to commit copycat crimes.
Vickie was a living example of how goodness also can grow, spread and reproduce itself in endless ways. She inspired countless of her own copycats. Many of them would send her emails or letters sharing their own stories.
If you live along the Wasatch Front, you don’t have to look far for examples. I first wrote about Vickie in 2005. That prompted President Gordon B. Hinckley, who then was president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to cite her story in a General Conference talk. Chris Williams listened to that talk and remembered it later when a 17-year-old drunk driver killed his family.
His struggles to forgive then led to a feature film and a book, influencing countless others. That is just one example.
Vickie wrote her own book, “No Room for Vengeance.” She began a career as a public speaker, urging people to forgive each other. Significantly, Cushing joined her in many of these appearances, first as a condition of his probation, then later on his own.
She made many appearances on television.As her website notes, the A&E Biography series honored her with a dramatic reenactment of the crime and her decision to forgive.
Wednesday morning I spoke with her co-author and professional partner, Robert Goldman. He spoke with reverence about how she had “such a positive impact on this world.” That included people young and old who struggled to free themselves from the bondage of resentment, hate and fantasies of revenge.
“I’m just grateful that I met Victoria and was able to spread the word of her legacy,” he said.
When I talked to her a few years ago, Vickie had three titanium plates in her left cheek and two in her right. Her wounds often ached. And yet she was happy and cheerful.
“I feel great,” she said. “I always thank God that he allowed me to come back so well.”
She saw a greater purpose in all she endured. Even though she now is gone, that purpose is bound to reverberate for a long time.