When her daughter Rachel died of cancer in July 2001 at age 6, Meg Crossett could have just curled up into a ball, pulled the covers over her head and given up.
Instead, with the support of family and friends, she found the strength to keep going. She still had husband Jim and five other children to live for — as well as a personal mission to do all she could to help those seeking a cure for the disease that stole her child's life.
"FIVE YEARS ago this week, I had to tell Rachel she was dying," said Crossett. "And that shouldn't be something a parent has to say to a child."
But Crossett, of Centreville's Pleasant Hill community, was active in the community before Rachel's death. After awhile, she again became involved and, for this and many other reasons, Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) named her Sully District's Lady Fairfax for 2006.
"Meg has done whatever's needed to be done for the community for a long time," he said. "She's been active with SYA and Scouts. And I chose this year, in particular, to nominate her because of her activities on behalf of childhood-cancer issues, St. Baldrick's Day and her leadership in the national organization to try to raise money for cancer research."
Frey said it just seemed like a good year to highlight that aspect of Crossett's volunteer service. "But that's certainly not the only reason," he said. "And Meg's following very well in the footsteps of her mother and father [longtime community activists Pat and Andy Lawless]." Years ago, Frey named Pat Lawless as Lady Fairfax; and now, he said, "This may be the first parent-child combination in Lord and Lady Fairfax history."
Meg and Jim Crossett have a landscaping business and, for several years, Meg was active in the Dulles Area Chamber of Commerce. She started the La Leche League of Centreville/Chantilly in 1986 and was on the SYA Board of Directors from 1995-98. She also helped with Centreville's huge bicentennial celebration.
Mother to Andrew, 24; Robert, 22; Sarah, 18; James, 15; Catherine, 8; and always "Angel Rachel," Crossett is currently a Brownie leader and Boy Scout troop helper. She's also a Christian-education teacher and youth-group leader at St. John's Episcopal Church and is busily heading the decorating committee for Westfield High's upcoming All-Night Grad Party.
AND KNOWING firsthand the trauma of a personal tragedy, she's that school's liaison for sick children in the community. "I'll call the parents and see if I can do anything to help," she said. "And I'll take gift bags of candy, Blockbuster cards, Beanie Babies, balloons and a card to the family."
Crossett and local resident Steve Ratliff work together on the annual St. Baldrick's Day event in Centreville, and this year's event raised $33,500 for childhood-cancer research. Crossett's also co-president of the Candlelighters National Childhood Cancer Foundation, which provides various kinds of support for families with children fighting this disease.
"Every Christmas, we decorate the national holiday tree in the old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C.," she explained. "Gold ribbons represent children who have cancer, who've survived it or who've lost their battle. It's a big awareness event, and people come from all over the country for this."
And each spring, Crossett hosts Teardrops to Rainbows in Rachel's memory. It's a children's fashion show and tea that raises money for families of childhood-cancer patients in the local area.
Nonetheless, when Frey told her he wanted to name her this year's Lady Fairfax, she at first declined. "It's an honor, but I didn't feel worthy of it after [slain Sully District Station police officers] Vicky Armel and Michael Garbarino died." Then Crossett realized she could use this opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of fighting childhood cancer.
The last three weeks of her life, Rachel fought against the disease as hard as she could. Finally, realizing the end was at hand, her last words were "I love you" to her parents and siblings, and she named each one of her brothers and sisters individually before succumbing.
So, said Crossett, "I figured being Lady Fairfax would be a platform for Rachel's cause, so no more parents would have to say those words and tell their kids they're dying. My heart's still broken."