A cousin of Shamie Ember Reay described the 39-year-old Monrovia woman who died in a as having a "timeless beauty," and photographs from her modeling days displayed near the pulpit at her funeral revealed a tall, striking young woman.
She had short, bleached-blond hair in those days, and as her life progressed and took some wrong turns, friends said she became camera shy and more recent pictures were hard to find. Burdened by a difficult family life and an off-and-on battle with drugs, Reay was known to be guarded and reclusive.
But throughout the troubled periods in her life, friends and relatives said she remained extraordinarily giving, industrious, sharp-minded, and above all, kind. And, friends said, she was working hard in her most recent years to shed her past and make a new life for herself.
Reay's loved ones gathered at the the on Lemon Avenue Saturday to remember a life that was cut short when a fire erupted in the kitchen of her on Jan. 24, generating enough smoke to apparently suffocate her.
Reay's longtime friend, Michelle Bradley-Orozco, was one of Reay's many close friends who spoke during Saturday's memorial and said that Reay embodied a tenet of her Mormon faith that called on believers to engage in "selfless, Christ-like service to others."
"This is how Shamie lived her life. It was her core being," Bradley-Orozco said.
Born August 4, 1971 in Provo, Utah, Reay was raised in Idaho and attended Brigham Young University, where she majored in economics. She moved to California after college and worked a variety of jobs, first in modeling and later in landscape design.
Known for her green thumb and nocturnal nature, Reay was nicknamed the "midnight gardener," Bradley-Orozco said. She had a passion for learning about diverse subjects and would often do sweeping research on a subject mentioned in passing by friends, she said.
"You could say, 'Gee, I'm doing a report on monkeys from Siberia,' and the next day she'd come over with an encyclopedia about monkeys from Siberia," Bradley-Orozco said.
Diligent and thoughtful, Reay could always be counted on for help, Bradley-Orozco said. She said Reay helped her get through her own difficult times.
"It was my church friends who sent me off with a blessing but it was Shamie who took me to the hospital and sat with me in the emergency room," Bradley-Orozco said. "She never let her faith in me waiver, in our 22 years of friendship."
Dorothy Norene Smith, who said she was like a mother to Reay, described her as a "smart and lovely person" who did not give herself enough credit for her own good deeds.
"She will never die in my heart," Smith said. "What a beautiful person. I don't think she realized how wonderful she was to people and how much she will be missed."
Bradley-Orozco shared the same assessment of Reay.
"What is ironic to me is that she spent much of her life not feeling worthy, but when you put the pieces together, she is so worthy," Bradley-Orozco said.
For the last year, while living in the small back house in Monrovia that eventually caught fire and killed her, Reay struck up a friendship with local resident Ingrid Aliet-Gass.
Reay met Gass while helping her remodel her home and became involved in her Bakersfield oil drilling business out of sheer curiosity.
Reay began reading up on the industry after visiting Aliet-Gass' oil fields and eventually got deeply involved in the business. She played a vital role in getting the drills up and running after a period of stagnation.
"She was such an incredible person," Aliet-Gass said. "She just could do everything."
Aliet-Gass said that Reay had been striving to turn her life around in the last year and was showing signs of tremendous improvement before the fire.
"I felt that she was overcoming a lot of her past and she was moving into the real world," Aliet-Gass said.