A photo of Sophia Travis is plastered in an old plastic picture frame on the downstairs counter at Cactus Flower.
In it, Travis balanced an accordion in two small hands as she played in a quartet in someone’s living room. Her mouth was slightly open, her dark brown gaze intense.
There are pieces of a person that make headlines and newspapers, and there are pieces that make memories.
Jill Schaffer, owner of Cactus Flower, could not speak of Travis without her voice choking and tears pooling in her eyes.
Travis worked at Cactus Flower for about four years, now about 10 years ago, Schaffer said. Travis frequented the shop and was friends with the owner.
She was in Schaffer’s shop just two weeks ago. Schaffer remembered she had trouble climbing the stairs.
Travis had been diagnosed with a heart condition, Schaffer said. A week and a half ago, Travis and her husband traveled to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio to see specialists.
The following Wednesday, Travis passed away in her home. She was 46. She leaves behind her husband, Greg, and 4-year-old son Finn.
Travis was a candidate for the Monroe County Council and president of the Asian Alumni Association.
Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Vi Simpson released a statement grieving the loss of both a community activist and a dear friend. Rick Dietz, chair of the Monroe County Democrats, said in an email he could not believe he had to compose.
“Sophia personified kindness — a dense gravitation kindness — and wielded a gentle strength that could move mountains, and move all those around her, and did many times over,” Dietz said in the email.
The Monroe County Democrats have not yet scheduled a caucus to determine a person to run in Sophia’s place.
Multiple stories were written in local media following news of her death. None completely captured who she was, Schaffer said.
Travis loved odd hats, and in the counter photo she wore a striped, buttoned hat with no shape. She valued pieces that were pretty rather than useful, and she loved the color pink. She and Schaffer used to visit antique shops, and Travis would leave with an oversized cookie jar or a porcelain doll to place somewhere in her eclectic, comfortable home.
“Everything she did, it was not done normally,” Schaffer said. “It was always whimsical.”
Travis’ voice was soft and sweet – what Schaffer called a disguise for a woman with immense inner strength and will.
Schaffer and Travis used to travel to Chicago together to buy clothing for the shop. Schaffer wanted to go to New York City but couldn’t figure out the finances, so Travis called a friend who worked at New York University and arranged for housing.
The two lived in an NYU dorm.
“I think I was way too old to live in a dorm,” Schaffer said, laughing. “We got stares. That’s for sure.”
At the end of their trip, Schaffer said Travis boldly approached the resident assistants and informed them she and Schaffer no longer wanted to attend NYU. Schaffer laughed, remembering the students trying to talk them into staying and Travis politely but firmly telling them no.
Schaffer remembered Cactus Flower catching fire 15 years ago. Much of the inside of the shop was covered in smoke stains. Without telling Schaffer, Travis took many pieces of clothing home to wash.
“And she said, ‘Oh, look, Jill, you can save all this stuff. It’s not lost.’”
Travis helped repaint the walls and window frames, taking home metal pieces that had been attached to the walls to polish and repaint before returning them.
“And, of course, it wouldn’t just be painted,” Schaffer said. “It would be decorated.”
Since Travis’ death, women who knew her have come to Cactus Flower and spoken to Schaffer. They’ve been heartbroken for Travis’ son and, as mothers themselves, feel her family’s loss deeply.
As Schaffer tries to understand Travis’ death, she’s given advice to those who seek to remember Travis well.
Listen to accordion music, she said. Buy artwork from someone of whom you’ve never heard. Involve yourself in the community. Tell your family you love them.
“Do everything with passion or just appreciate everything around you,” Schaffer said. “Have fun and laugh a lot, a whole lot.”