CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WLS) --A University of Illinois graduate student who died after contracting bacterial meningitis while studying in Brazil was remembered Thursday as a woman determined to change the world.
Ashley Walls was the daughter of community activist and former candidate for Chicago mayor William "Dock" Walls.
The family of Ashley Walls is relying on faith right now. On Thursday night, her brother and sister told Eyewitness News that God does not make mistakes, and that Ashley was here to touch other people - her family, friends, and even strangers a world away.
At 29, Ashley Walls already had a list of accomplishments, but her loved ones are hurting as they remember the way she touched people at home and abroad in Brazil, where she was studying.
"Only Ashley can bring two countries together in love, only Ashley. And that's the truth," said Anika Wheaton, sister.
"She was loved and she touched so many different people," said William "Cody" Walls IV, brother.
Ashley with mother and stepfather: Darlene Patrick (left), William Patrick (center), Ashley Walls (right)
Relatives say Ashley was on a Brazilian island working on her Ph. D. when she contracted bacterial meningitis. Her parents rushed to the country. Her father, Dock Walls, talked to Eyewitness News from Brazil.
"Exceptional human being. She was kind, and loving, gave of herself unselfishly. I've always remarked that Ashley was the hardest working person I ever met," said Dock Walls.
Dock Walls says doctors in Florianopolis tried to stabilize Ashley before taking her up the coast to a better hospital in Sao Paulo, 480 miles away. She never made it, and died Monday.
"She was outstanding, she was stellar, she had a smile that would light up any room. She would motivate, encourage and push anyone she came in contact with," said Martina Smith, cousin.
And that's why it's so difficult for her family.
"She made everybody feel special," said Anika Wheaton.
"It's going to be hard, not having that embrace, my sister telling me she loves me. That's going to be hard," said William "Cody" Walls.
U of I's chancellor said that Ashley Walls was respected and admired by peers and faculty members. Her family says she was studying Afro-Brazilian culture, and how to bridge that to African-Americans.
Dock Walls says his daughter is expected to get her doctorate degree posthumously.