Residents mourn local Relay for Life co-founder, Rosemary Champagne

Rosemary and Jim Champagne at the 2011 Apple Harvest Festival gala.

By SHERIDAN CYR

STAFF WRITER

For more than three decades, Rosemary Champagne has been a leading voice is Southington’s battle against cancer. She was a cancer survivor, an inspirational author, a mentor, a philanthropist, an activist, and a friend.

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, the 34-year cancer survivor passed away after a long battle with cancer. Champagne was 73.

“Rosemary was an icon in Southington, and we will truly miss her dearly,” said Southington town councilor Chris Palmieri, who worked alongside Champagne for many years as chair of the AHF supervisory committee.

Champagne was well-known throughout town for sharing her experiences with cancer to help others find their way through their own battles with the disease. She was a founding member of Southington’s Relay for Life, which completed its 20th round this past summer.

“Rosemary is the heart of the relay,” said Joyce McAloon, current chair of the event. “She never thought of herself. She always put the survivors and the caretakers first, whether she was at a meeting with the teams, or at the Relay, she looked for people to give them what they needed. When I looked out at the sea of thousands of people at the Relay, the one person I always saw was Rosemary.”

Champagne’s work didn’t end with the relay. She authored a book called, “My Detour on Life’s Highway,” a story about a stem cell transplant survivor. She has been a mentor to many cancer survivors and often donated free wigs to patients that could not afford them.

She had received many awards from the American Cancer Society, and served as the honorary chair of the Southington Relay for Life.

McAloon said Champagne will be honored at this year’s Relay for Life event. McAloon sent a message to committee members to inform them, and she said the support that came back was overwhelming.

“I just know she is going to have this relay up in heaven and guide us. She will be the heart, the angel from above, and I know we will feel her presence at the relay,” said McAloon. “We will carry on what she started many years ago.”

Champagne’s service to her community did not stop with her service to cancer survivors and cancer patients. She also played an important role in organizing the Apple Harvest Festival over the last 10 years alongside her husband, Jim, the former festival coordinator, and her daughter, Tracey.

Her husband described the work as a true family effort.

“I want to thank my family, because without them, there were no 10 years,” Jim said when the family was selected as the 2018 grand marshals. “My daughter Tracey was by my side all the time. My wife, Rosemary, was totally supportive of everything we did. We worked long hours, and that took away from a lot of family time. I’m grateful to them for being there all throughout.”

Her husband said that the family aspect of the festival was one of their biggest visions for the local event. The town agreed because the trio was recently named as grand marshals for this year’s AHF parade just a few weeks ago.

After Rosemary’s passing, a moment of silence was held in her name at the AHF Gala.

“We will never forget the many contributions she made to make our town a better place, especially with her involvement in the Apple Harvest Festival and the Relay for Life, and her support for Bradley Memorial Hospital,” Palmieri said. “She was a wonderful, thoughtful, and caring woman who always put others’ needs ahead of her own.”

Rosemary dedicated her life to helping others and lifting them up. As a lifelong cosmetologist, she sought to make others feel beautiful and confident.

She had been a member of the National Cosmetology Association of Connecticut for over 45 years and served as the chair of the Connecticut Hair Fashion Committee. In 2001, she was awarded the prestigious “Charles Award” by the National Cosmetology Association, presented annually to one hairdresser in the country to honor their civic contributions.

She owned Hair Expo Salon in Southington for 43 years, and she served on committees for national beauty salon week and as a co-director for hair fashion shows. Over the years, Champagne raised thousands of dollars for the women’s shelter in Waterbury. She was also involved in the “Look Good Feel Good” program for cancer patients and donated wigs and hair for the “Wigs for Kids” program.

“Rosemary held her family, her faith and her friends close to heart,” states her obituary. “She was a giving person who exemplifies the spirit of ‘giving.’ She was a compassionate woman [with] willingness to help anyone in need. She was the leader of her family and her legacy is reflected in the eyes of her friends.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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