Those who knew Valentine Leborgne in her hometown of Los Altos have been hard hit by the news that she is no longer with us.
Valentine, who interned with the Town Crier last summer, died Nov. 23 north of Vancouver, Canada, when the vehicle she was riding in with three other University of British Columbia students hit a pickup truck head-on. The driver, Valentine’s roommate Olivia Robertson, also died. The two other passengers survived.
I found out about it the next day in an email from Sophie Ho. Sophie, a Mountain View High School graduate attending UC Berkeley, also interned with us over the summer. She and Valentine became fast friends. A Homestead High School grad, Valentine, only 19, was in her second year at UBC.
To say this is a tragedy is a gross understatement. According to authorities, the girls were driving responsibly – no distracted driving, drugs or alcohol involved. The investigation into the crash, on British Columbia’s Highway 99 (also known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway) is ongoing.
I was struck by the incredible outpouring of love toward this young woman with whom I barely got acquainted at the Town Crier. But every description of her seemed to resonate.
Valentine was beautiful in every sense of the word. She had a million-dollar smile, and it always seemed to be there. She appeared calm and easygoing, but that demeanor belied great passion and ambition, a quest for adventure and an open-mindedness to try new things. She loved outdoor sports and was on her way to Whistler to ski when the collision occurred.
Valentine was smart, spoke fluent French and had a passion for writing. But what really stood out was her emotional intelligence. When Valentine walked into a room, she radiated warmth, understanding and an incredibly positive vibe.
As I pored over tributes on Facebook, the description that struck me most was the word “genuine.” In an age of know-it-alls, outright phonies and pretentious, self-conscious people, Valentine was an oasis.
Valentine touched so many lives that her parents held two memorials, one at UBC and one last Saturday in Campbell, to accommodate all of the friends and family who wanted to share their thoughts.
My wife and I attended Saturday’s memorial. We were very moved by the tributes from some of the 200-plus people in attendance. And we were also inspired by hearing about this energetic dynamo who seemed to motivate and bring joy to everyone around her.
The best way to honor Valentine is to keep her in our fond memories. I will always remember that smile and her willingness to laugh – especially at the bad French I tried out on her.
Yes, her being taken at such a young age is horribly tragic and unfair. But for 19 years, she made the world a better place. Perhaps we can all be inspired by the great qualities that made Valentine who she was, and smile right back.
Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.