TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - An Arizona woman risked her life to fight for the freedoms and civil rights of others. But this month, Sally Rowley's family says the 88-year-old died in a Tucson care facility after contracting COVID-19.
"She was not a normal grandmother," said her granddaughter Anika Pasilis. "She spoiled me with lessons about life."
Pasilis says her grandmother always taught her to follow her passions.
"Her idol was Amelia Earhart and she went to Stephens College in Missouri," said Pasilis.
It was there where Rowley learned how to fly a plane.
"I don't know any other grandmas who could know how to fly," Pasilis said.
But it was on the road where Rowley would make her mark, participating in the Freedom Rider movement of 1961, riding interstate buses into the South to challenge segregation.
"She said she gave all the credit to the other people who were fighting because it was their movement and their victory and she was just doing the least that she could to help it happen," Pasilis said.
Rowley was arrested in Mississippi for her actions, spending time in the state penitentiary.
Pasilis says her grandmother didn't talk much about her time behind bars, only telling brief stories about the brutality of incarceration, like when she saw a woman get the teeth knocked out her mouth.
Rowley would go on to travel the globe, living in San Francisco, Guatemala and Mexico. She would also make jewelry for a living. Rowley never married but partnered with the artist Felix Pasilis who died two years ago. They had two children together, and also raised a daughter from one of Felix Pasilis' separate relationships.
After a life full of adventure, Rowley's granddaughter says she said goodbye through the window of a Tucson care facility. Rowley died on May 14th.
"To tell her goodbye through a window while she couldn't breathe, it's something that'll shape me for the rest of my life," Anika Pasilis said.
But Pasilis, a 20-year-old journalism student at the University of Arizona, also says she's been shaped by her grandmother's words: pushed to live life without fear and to never stop asking questions.
"I'm just really honored that I was her granddaughter," Anika Pasilis said.