Olivia Roberts’ generosity and sense of purpose knew no bounds.
It wasn’t confined to her high school; she actively sought out those who were less visible — perhaps eating lunch alone, or didn’t have anyone to talk to — and made sure they knew they mattered. When she was trying to encourage relatively shy kids in a larger group, for example, Olivia would tell them “look for me,” as a nod that she would be there for them. Always.
It wasn’t confined to her city; when she was downtown, Olivia would make sure she had sandwiches and water bottles to hand out to people who were homeless.
It wasn’t confined to her country; Olivia went on two mission trips to Bolivia to work in orphanages, playing with kids who had been rescued from the streets of poverty-ridden area of La Paz.
“She was just the kind of person who wanted to make sure that everyone knew they were valuable,” said Michele Smith, a close family friend, “and when you’re 18 that’s not really that typical.”
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It was just that generosity and selflessness that led Olivia Roberts and four friends into the car to go celebrate with a friend who had just been accepted to Savannah College of Art and Design, when a tire blew out, sending the vehicle into a roll. Olivia was killed instantly. The other four were injured and treated.
“It continues to be really difficult for (her friends), in terms of missing her and wondering why on one hand,” Smith said. “And yet on the other hand… they look at it as kind of a miracle that they only had minor injuries. So that means they have a responsibility as they move forward because they were protected. Part of that responsibility is to continue things that were important to Olivia, like continuing mission trips, the way they treat other people, showing compassion to one another and being the best person they can be.”
Olivia wasn’t much of a runner — she preferred to stick to the soccer field, where she was the team manager for the women’s soccer team at Pope High School.
But on July 4, Smith, Emily Roberts (Olivia's sister), Meaghan Upchurch, Carly Shortland, Blair Shortland, Mia Cellino, Melina Cole, Beda Roberts (Olivia's mom), Virginia Shortland, Kristi Cole, Gina Cellino, Ivette Brito, Jenny Chesser, and June Vorster will run The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race in her honor. They will comprise two teams, choosing “Love to Liv(e)” as their team name.
It’s something new. It’s a challenge. Olivia wouldn’t back away from either.
“She was very willing to be adventurous,” Smith said. “She wanted to try new things. So we thought… this would be a way to honor her by doing something that’s outside the comfort zone for many, something they’ve never done. Which is like her. Something that’s healthy. Thinking about our team names, about embracing life and living well.”
Olivia should have been on her way to the University of North Georgia. She wanted to complete her studies and follow her passion back to Bolivia, to continue helping there.
Shortly after her passing, a library was created in her honor. In lieu of flowers at her memorial, they asked for donations for the “B-Olivia” library to be formed to help serve children in Bolivia. “The funds will support two special passions of her life,” read her obituary, “serving impoverished children in Bolivia and helping animals in need.” Thanks in large part to those donations, the B-Olivia library is now the largest lending library in Bolivia.
It’s impossible to know how the Love to Liv(e) teams will feel when they cross the finish line in Piedmont Park. Only Smith has previously run the Peachtree — she said “it can be a very emotional experience” — and even she hasn’t done so under these circumstances. There will be physical reminders of Olivia on their customized T-Shirts and numerous emotional reminders of Olivia, no doubt.
But the group of loving friends and family will take to the race — as they do each day now — trying to embody Olivia’s favorite Bible verse from Ecclesiastes 3:12 as best they can.
“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”