Updated: Jan 27
Friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Laurel Flaherty on Friday, after the Belmont law student was killed on Oct. 12.
President Greg Jones spoke at the service, held in the Gabhart Chapel, along with the chair of the social work department and Flaherty’s close friends. Flaherty was killed in the storm last month after a tree fell on her car on Old Natchez Trace.
She studied social work at Belmont for four years before getting accepted to the College of Law.
Mallie Gilligan, a friend of Flaherty’s, said her favorite memory of Flaherty was “all the times that she showed up early to help me and just to study with us and was just supportive and always our biggest cheerleader.”
This sentiment was seen throughout the service.
Angel Phillippi, another friend of Flaherty’s, echoed Gilligan’s thoughts.
“Everyone’s been saying this, but Laurel loved you for who you were and that was it. She would not shy away from telling you over and over ‘I loved you and I’m so proud of you.’ That was the last thing we said to me. I don’t know anybody else who loved people the way that Laurel did,” she said.
Professor Julia Hunt taught Flaherty through many of her social work classes, guiding her through the program and her college career.
Her first experience with Flaherty was in her Introduction to Social Work class, in which students had required service hours.
“She was an equestrian, and so she wanted to do something with horses. She started volunteering with Saddle Up… it’s horses and working with people who have disabilities. And I said, ‘It’s amazing for you to do that, but it’s also going to be a whole lot of work because you have to drive out to the farm where it is, opposed to going down the street.’ She said ‘Oh, I don’t mind.’ And she continued to volunteer with them, she loved it so much.”
Hunt watched Flaherty learn and grow throughout the social work program.
“Fast forward to her junior year, she was just so steady, consistent. She never missed a class, always prepared, she was a leader in a really quiet sense of the word. She wasn’t the loudest voice in the classroom, but she was so wise and intentional.”
As part of her senior year in the social work program, Flaherty was required to intern with an agency in the city. Her heart was set on advocacy, and she ended up working at the public defender's office doing case management with people on death row.
“She loved it so much. She just saw the dignity and worth of humans no matter what they had done. And she saw the story behind the story to really see people as people,” said Hunt.
Kendal Cliburn, another friend of Flaherty’s, said that she impacted the Belmont community in many ways, but most prominently by providing inspiration.
“She was just so passionate about what she was doing, and I think that passion inspired everyone around her to want to do better and work harder,” she said, “to keep pursuing their dreams and their mission.”
This article was written by Katie-Beth Cannon