Westchester resident’s memoir honors the life of her late mother
By Holly Jenvey
Grace Rector lost her mother, Pam, in the middle of her final year of college. However, their bond and memories live on in her recent memoir, “The Rector Girls”.
The novel depicts the close-knit mother-daughter relationship they shared since Grace was born. Through exploring the world together, instilling values as well as enduring hardship, Grace published her first book this past April, showcasing the labor of love between them.
Pam passed away at the age of 64 in February 2020, a month before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown began. Initially, Grace didn’t have plans to write a novel, but journaled stories to process the loss of her mother. It wasn’t until a professor at Georgetown University, her alma mater, reached out and offered a course teaching young people how to publish their first book.
“I thought, ‘I have all these written stories, why not turn it into something that could be passed down to generations?’” Grace said. “And so my inspiration for writing it down into a book format was I thought it would be something so beautiful to hand to my friends and family and say, ‘These are the lessons that I learned from my mom.”
Pam worked at Loyola Marymount University for 22 years and also was a counselor at Lennox Middle School. At LMU, she conducted service trips with college students to different countries. Pam began taking Grace on these trips from when she was 4 years old until she was 18. On the trips, Grace would participate in the service activities the college students were partaking in.
“At age five, I was doing these service projects with college students and then at the end of every night, my mom would make me participate in the reflection and talk about the community members and what we learned and what we saw,” Grace said.
It was through Pam’s work at schools where Grace would find her extended family. At Lennox Middle School, Pam started an Adopt-A-Student Program, where staff and faculty mentored students. However, Grace said her mother went above and beyond, and figuratively adopted (by mentoring) four students. Pam would take them on trips to San Diego, as well as celebrate their birthdays throughout middle school, high school and college. Those students are now around 40 years old and are like Grace’s real siblings.
Pam’s adoptive family was with her until the end. “The Rector Girls” shares a story where Grace and one of her adoptive sisters were at the orientation for Pam’s second kidney transplant, when a doctor asked her who they were.
“She said pointing to me, ‘[That] is my daughter by blood’ and pointed to Ale and said, ‘That is my daughter by love’. I thought that was beautiful because it’s true,” Grace said.
As Grace’s only biological family was her mother, she felt very isolated amid the pandemic. “The Rector Girls” also explores Grace’s isolation as she was attending virtual schooling. Since most of Grace’s friends were on the East Coast, socialization wasn’t easy and she was trapped in her grief, especially by living in her mother’s house.
Grace was affirmed knowing she wasn’t alone in the way she felt. Readers shared how they were feeling the same way, including some of her friends. As the pandemic eased, Grace did her first two book signings, one at Georgetown University in Washington D.C and one in Los Angeles.
“I think this book has unintentionally but beautifully brought people together again to celebrate her life outside of the negative context of a funeral,” Grace said.
Even though Pam has passed away, her legacy lives on. She has instilled a love for traveling and teaching in Grace. Single mothers have also approached Grace and said Pam’s their inspiration as she told them not to let the perceptions deter them from doing what they want. Other readers have shared memories and stories in reaction to “The Rector Girls”, even those that didn’t know Grace or her mother.
“I think the general message of it is if life’s not going your way to make it happen and to create things in your own way, even if it doesn’t follow the plan, and as a 22-year-old, I definitely need that in mind,” Grace said.
“The Rector Girls” retails for $16.99 and is available for purchase on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.