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Obituary: Sarah Francisco, 1974-2024

Speech therapist touched the lives of countless students and families and will be remembered for her limitless joy

Published April 29, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated April 29, 2024 at 4:04 p.m.


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Sarah Francisco - COURTESY
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Sarah Olivia Francisco, an incredible wife, loving mother, sister, daughter, friend, teacher and so much more, died unexpectedly and all too soon on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at her family’s home in Williston, Vt. She was 49.

Born on October 3, 1974, in West Allis, Wis., Sarah was raised in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where she made many of her closest lifelong friends and fell in love with her high school sweetheart — and later, husband — Steve. They both attended the College of Saint Rose and, following graduation, moved to Vermont to begin their professional careers. After brief stints in Massachusetts and California, they returned to Vermont, where they established themselves as fixtures in the community.

Sarah’s tireless dedication to the field of speech therapy yielded two degrees and, over the course of the last two decades, allowed her to touch the lives of countless students and families at the schools in which she worked. When she started working at Champlain Valley Union High School, she became much more than a speech therapist. She befriended students and teachers alike, regardless of their role or whether or not they were one of her own students. It’s through that work and her inclination to be everyone’s friend that she became so well known and liked in the community. It’s also where she selflessly shared the ideals she held most dear — such as perseverance; taking care of anyone and everyone; being kind, encouraging and accepting; and, most of all, spreading joy — with so many others. And even though she excelled in her role, her curiosity and unwavering desire to keep learning always shined through; she had recently passed the Praxis exam to become certified as an art teacher.

Yet as proud as Sarah was of all that she and Steve accomplished in their professional lives, she took the most joy from the incredible family that they created together and the values and qualities that make Olivia and George who they are. “Hold on! Let me get my ‘Proud Mama’ T-shirt,” she would often say, as each of her kids passed yet another milestone in sports, academics, volunteering or even just being great kids.

When thinking of Sarah, there are few things that people remember more than her kindness, encouragement, acceptance and, most importantly, her limitless joy. Her smile was a beacon of joy and kindness, and she was a vibrant and constant presence in the lives of all of those she knew and loved. She reveled in sharing her quick wit and sense of humor and never hesitated to help support, care for and encourage everyone she knew. As a virtuoso hostess and entertainer known far and wide for throwing unforgettable parties and holiday celebrations, she set a bar so impossibly high that anyone who ever attended one will certainly think of her every time they plan even the smallest of events.

Sarah was in constant motion, living and thriving in the present, while also planning for a future that included even more travel adventures with the family, running her 14th marathon in November, welcoming the two special people that Olivia and George care about into the family as if they were her own, starting a new chapter with Steve as empty nesters, and watching her children transition into and through college, and she was quietly excited about the prospect of becoming a grandmother one day.

Sarah is survived by her two children, Olivia and George Francisco; her husband, Steve Francisco; her brother, Nick Neilio; and her father, Bill Neilio. She was predeceased by her mother, Margaret “Peg” Neilio. Her passing is truly devastating and one that feels insuperable at times. If you feel like losing Sarah leaves a tremendous hole in a world that will now be without her energy, joy and love, know that you are not alone. It is OK to feel the weight of this loss, just as it’s also OK to realize that Sarah would want us all to be brave. Though she is no longer with us, she lives on in more than just memories. Her love of travel will undoubtedly carry on through the adventures her family and friends will continue undertaking in her honor. Her joyfulness and warmth will be ever present in everyone she’s met, worked with and laughed with, as we all strive to see and touch the world the way she did. And most importantly, her legacy will live on in Olivia and George, who learned enough from her in their 21 and 17 years to last their lifetimes.

A celebration of Sarah’s life will be held on Sunday, June 2, 2024, 11 a.m., at Champlain Valley Union High School, 369 CVU Road, Hinesburg, VT. All family, friends, students and families are welcome.

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