Unexpected loss of local singer, librarian rocks community

Published 12:05 am Saturday, March 25, 2023

SALISBURY — Some people’s souls shine so brightly, burn so intensely, that their flame goes out too soon.

Such it seems is the case with Chelsea Rae Childers, who at 39 was an accomplished singer and musician as well as an educator and librarian in town. Everyone appears to have known her.

According to family and friends, Monday night she was cooking dinner for family and friends when she fell and hit her head. On Tuesday, she was nauseated and having trouble keeping food down. She told her 16-year-old daughter, Lily, that she was going to bed early because she did not feel well. She never woke up. And her family, and her community, are reeling.

“She was a shooting star,” said her mother, Joyce Keller. “My husband said ‘there are stars that shine every night and we grow accustomed to them, but shooting stars, well, they’re here and then gone, but we put our dreams, our wishes into a shooting star.'”

Keller and numerous friends all said the same thing: Once Chelsea was your friend, it was forever. And her friendship was genuine.

“She had a gift,” said Keller. “When she talked with you, she made you feel like you were the most important person in the world, and for her, in that moment, you were. She loved people, with all her heart, and it was real. She didn’t do it to make people feel that way, she did it because it was who she was.”

A former teacher with a master’s degree, Childers was homeroom teacher 17 years ago to Ira Cathcart, who introduces himself as Childers’ son, and means it.

“She was my homeroom teacher,” he said. “And she was wonderful. The next year, her daughter was born and she needed a babysitter, so I started helping with that. And we just went from there.” Cathcart said Childers was “brilliant. Nothing she couldn’t do. And she loved unconditionally, completely, with an open mind and heart. She loved too hard, I think.”

Cathcart was joined by more than 200 people Wednesday night at an impromptu gathering to remember Childers at Shug’s at Brooklyn South Square. Initially, owner Tiffany Day said a ticketed concert by the Wildwoods was planned, but as news of Childers’ unexpected death spread, she decided to refund the tickets, instead letting the event become a memorial for her friend.

“It rocked me,” said Day. “And I don’t really know that anyone planned this gathering, it just kind of fell into place.” In the corner of the restaurant, a memorial with photos and candles was set up and a book put out for people to write memories and thoughts in that people hope will serve as a gift to Lily.

One of Childers’ closest friends, Sue McHugh, struggled to remain calm talking about the loss of someone so dear to her. The two musicians met about 15 years ago, said McHugh.

“In 2012, I was frustrated because all the local places that hosted musicians here only hired the fellas,” said McHugh. “So I reached out to a group of my fellow female performers and we created Chickweed — Celebrating Indestructible Women. And Chelsea was in the lineup, always, and was my biggest cheerleader and supporter.” The event grew to an audience of about 500 before COVID caused a pause, but McHugh hopes 2024 may see the return of Chickweed.

McHugh described Childers as a “prolific songwriter, she had books and books of songs, and they were funny, quirky, joyful, insightful, bright. She was always creating. Always. But what a lot of people may not know is the intelligent, focused side of her. She was incredibly bright, an educator that had a way with children. She worked with Headstart, Partners in Learning and at the library, and she was just incredible.”

Asked what she wanted to be sure everyone knew about her friend, McHugh said, “just make sure you say that glitter was her favorite color.” She paused, then said, “I am still having trouble believing this is real. When I first heard, I actually thought ‘this has to be some evil joke.’ I don’t think Chelsea had come into her own yet. This is just so wrong.”

Another friend, Martin James Rogozinksi, agreed. He was at Childers’ house Monday night after the ambulance left, and he said when he got out of his car, he was saying “this is a joke, right?” He met Childers at the Dragon Boat Festival one year, when he forgot to bring a chair, and Childers offered him one.

“At one point, I looked out at the water, and Chelsea was the only one out there swimming,” he said. “I thought ‘this girl is fantastic!’ and I jumped in with her. We’ve been friends ever since.” The two are 10 years apart in age, he said, both with May birthdays, and he said they had made a pact to always take care of each other.

Fellow musician CJ Peters could not sing Childers’ praises enough, particularly when it came to her musical talents.

“She was just so wildly creative, and her voice, oh, the way she could sing, harmonize,” he said. “And she’d give directions, like she was always telling me ‘lift your eyebrows, lift them!’ She knew what was needed. We played the at the Farmer’s Market together and this year she was going to open it.” He said the two had recorded a children’s song, “Boo!” in the studio for the CD “Keep in Reach of Children,” which he believes was the only studio recording she made. But there are a multitude of videos on social media showcasing her talent, and like McHugh, he said she wrote many, many songs. He said her work in the children’s department at the library was incredibly popular and that she often worked her music into activities she planned.

“This just hurts, a lot,” he said, shaking his head.

Pat Weddington, who lived next door to Chelsea, was “just heartbroken. Every day with Chelsea was an adventure. I never knew what color her hair was going to be, and her daughter, Lily, is a carbon copy of her in the best way.” Weddington said she and Childers became close enough that she dog sat for Childers’ small dog Jayden, until Childers realized that Weddington and the dog had bonded so much that she gave the dog to her neighbor.

“Chelsea collected wounded birds and helped them heal,” said her mother. “And once you met her, you loved her. I always told her ‘you are the treasure of my heart, always and forever. When she was little, and had done something naughty, she would ask me ‘mommy, am I still the treasure of your heart?’ and I would say ‘always and forever.’ She always will be. I am having a hard time accepting that the possibilities, the plans we had, are now no longer possible.”

Funeral plans are not yet established.

“It was so unexpected, we still have some processing to do,” said Keller. In addition to any memorial services, there are plans for several events later in the year to honor Childers’ memory that will be posted when they are confirmed. She had no insurance to cover the cost of the funeral. McHugh has established a GoFundMe page for anyone who would like to help offset the cost of services. You can find the fundraiser here.

Meanwhile, McHugh admits she is second-guessing herself. Was there something she could have done to change the outcome?

“There must have been a grand design for her somewhere else,” she said. “Nothing else makes sense.”