Small town residents open hearts, arms after girls lose mother to cancer

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LORENA, Texas (KWTX) Lorena went lime green Tuesday and so did the town’s schools to show support for three young girls who returned to school for the first time since the death of their mother.

Lime green ribbons were tied to utility poles, signposts and trees along the street from the girls’ house to their schools where classmates and teachers were waiting, all dressed in green. (Courtesy photos)

“This is what Lorena is. This is what Lorena does,” middle school Principal Jennifer Allison said.

“The community really is just one big family.”

Leslie Gill, 43, died on Jan. 13 after being diagnosed with lymphoma in August 2019.

Gill was a community volunteer, a staunch supporter of Lorena schools, and a popular hair stylist at Salons by JC in Waco.

“Leslie has been a dear friend for years and will be deeply missed by all who knew her. She could light up a room with her smile and laughter,” Lorena teacher Cristie Thigpin said.

Gill’s death rocked the small town and left those who knew her looking for ways to show their love for her and support for the family she left behind.

Gill’s three daughters, twins at Lorena Primary School and an older daughter in sixth grade at Lorena Intermediate School, were out of class for more than a week after her death and during that time other mothers in the district worked to make sure than when the three returned, they would be welcomed with open arms.

On Tuesday lime green ribbons were tied to trees, signposts and utility poles along the street all the way from their house to their schools where students,teachers and staff members were waiting, all wearing green on what was dubbed “Going Green for the Gill Girls Day.”

“Lime green is the color we chose for it,” said Allison Vrana, a Lorena mother and friend who spearheaded the effort.

“One because it’s the color for the type of cancer she had and also the color kind of speaks to her spirit. She was just a lively person.”

“It was kind of a crazy idea but I said ‘we’re all moms and if this was me I would want my kids to know the whole town is behind them,’” Vrana said.

“That’s what I told the moms. This is the way we are saying it without having to bother the kids or invade their privacy.”

Friends say Gill did not want a funeral because she did not want her girls to be put through something sad, but rather wished for her life to be celebrated, which was taken into high consideration when it came to painting the town green on Tuesday.

Middle school Principal Jennifer Allison said the response was nothing short of amazing.

“I’m a mom myself and cannot imagine,” she said.

“The 412 kids on campus are my kids, too, and this is just about support for them. And with every death in this world, there is good that comes out of it. And we’re going to focus on that.”

Allison said Gill was a parent who was always willing to help and Vrana said that willingness to do the best job at anything she took on is one of the ways she’ll be most remembered.

“She was a lively, energetic person and she went in full force,” Vrana said.

“Everything was 150 percent. If she volunteered to do something you knew it would be over the top and be great. Her support of Lorena kids and the town was awesome and what we’ve seen today, it’s just beautiful,” Vrana said.