Her family described her as "determined." Her friends described her as "someone who lights up any room she enters." Those that met her once, left knowing that they had just met a truly kind young woman. Following her tragic death in an automobile accident in the early morning hours of Nov. 21, a community came to consider her family.
A candlelight vigil for Drew, organized by persons unknown some 10 short hours following her death, was attended my more than 250 people gathered around the Benton Panther emblem on the football field at the new sports complex in town. A short distance away was the softball field where Drew spent many hours playing the sport she loved with the friends she held dear. Drew played for the Benton Panthers girls softball team that won several awards during her time on the team.
According to her parents, Teddy and Susan Melton, Drew was determined to live life to the fullest from Day 1. "We were at the lake in Hot Springs with family when Susan was pregnant." says Teddy. Susan wasn't expected to go into labor for several days and the Melton's felt comfortable being away from a nearby hospital at the time. Susan went into labor and "by the time we got from the lake to a hospital in Hot Springs, Drew as already crowned from ear to ear!" says Teddy. "It seemed like she decided it was time to get busy in the world."
Drew's determination continued to grow. "When she was little, she wanted a treehouse." says Drew's grandfather, Fred Melton. "She went out in the backyard and started dragging out boards and lumber from a pile I had. Before I knew it, I was buying pressure-treated lumber, posts and one of those plastic slides. We got the treehouse built and she ruled it. She decided who came up and who didn't. If she didn't want you to come up, she would pull up the ladder."
Drew's uncle, Greg Davis, has particularly fond memories of his niece. "She was the child I never had." recounts Greg. "We were very close. We went to Hawaii with friends when Drew was younger. I remember waking one morning and seeing her peeking over the window sill out at the ocean. I asked her 'What are you looking at, Drew?' She said 'There are two men out there in a kayak!' She was so excited to be there." Greg said that her trip to Hawaii almost didn't happen. "We didn't have the money to take everybody." Mary Davis, Drew's paternal grandmother, joined in the story and said that if it had not been for the kindness of Benton resident Doug Curtis, Drew would not have been able to attend. "Doug cashed in his frequent flyer miles so that Drew could have a ticket." said Mary. "It was such a nice thing for him to do."
Drew was known to some family members as "Drewbie." Kelly Melton, sister of Teddy and Drew's aunt, said "Drew was the light of our family. She always had a smile and share her love freely. She always put others first. I remember when she was seven or eight years old, she made a Christmas list for what she wanted to get others, rather than a list of what she wanted for herself." Kelly remembers the last time she saw Drew. "It was last Sunday night and the last thing she said to me as she hugged and kissed me was 'I love you'."
As a child, Drew was standing too close to a batter who was taking a few practice swings. The bat hit Drew in the mouth, knocking out several of her upper teeth. Her family remembers this indent as another moment of Drew exerting her determination. "She wouldn't let us get her new front teeth. She was young and they would need replacing every year or so. Instead, she didn't let her lack of teeth keep her from smiling all the time. She even learned to eat corn-on-the-cob. That's just how determined she was!"
These same stories are echoed by friends and teammates.
The family has not learned the persons responsible for the vigil last Wednesday night, but they are deeply moved by the kindness and generosity shown to them during their time of grief.
"We actually think Drew was responsible for getting the vigil put together." says Jerry Mack Davis, Drew's uncle. "She was the type of person who would do this."
People gathered on the field, listened to people speak of Drew and the tragedy of her death. Songs of praise and thanks were sung. Candles were lit.
And at the end of it all, the circle closed as people hugged and remembered their good friend who had drawn them together. There were no city limits or school divisions seen. Only people sharing a common grief of an unimaginable loss.
Perhaps one of the people present summed it up best. "She lit up every room she entered, but without a doubt, heaven is lit up for sure tonight."