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Obituaries » Rebecca M. Alway-Cooper

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Rebecca M. Alway-Cooper

May 10, 1982 - June 11, 2022

There will be no funeral service. Her family plans to privately spread her ashes in one of the South Carolina parks she loved. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to “#MEAction.” Becky wanted people to know about the desperate need for research to find a cure for myalgic encephalomyelitis in hopes of helping millions of others like her. Friends and family may share a condolence message online at www.joldersma-klein.com.

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Dr. Rebecca Marie Alway-Cooper, 40, died on 11 June 2022 after a long struggle with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.

Rebecca, or Becky as she was known to her family and friends, was born on 10 May 1982 to Martha Alway and Murray Cooper in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She graduated in 2000 from Gull Lake High School, where she was an avid competitor in cross-country running, class valedictorian, and star chemistry student. She carried her love of science onward, receiving a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Purdue University (2005) and a PhD in chemical engineering from Clemson University (2014), leading to a career in manufacturing carbon fiber composites.

Becky was a thrill seeker and adventurer with a tender heart. She was a licensed recreational pilot and motorcycle rider, a triathlete, and devoted yoga practitioner. She was as happy in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang or behind the wheel of her beloved red motorcycle, Scarlet, as she was hiking or cycling in the hills and trails of South Carolina and Michigan. She loved nature and kept a journal of the birds and other wildlife she saw on her hikes. She was competitive even at home, where she thoroughly enjoyed beating her family at board games.

Becky had softer and more glamorous sides too. She was an animal lover with a “Snow White” quality. She spent hours tending her small backyard garden and coaxing chipmunks and wild rabbits from the woods to eat seeds from her hand. She insisted that her mother use humane mouse traps at home so Becky could release them in the wood nearby. She was especially fond of her two beagles, Suzy and Pearl. She also had a lifelong love of fine jewelry, or “sparklies” as she had called them since she was a girl, a passion she indulged when she took up belly dancing. She maintained a meticulous wardrobe of belly dancing costumes, including many pieces that she sewed herself.

Becky was very caring, particularly to the many friends she made while in graduate school at Clemson, who became a second family to her. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and took on the role of “mama” to some of her fellow doctoral students, particularly those who were new arrivals to the United States. She once went on a long-distance bicycle ride just to bring food and water to a friend who she was worried about getting home safely from his first long ride. In her final months, she was most excited about attending the upcoming wedding of one of her best friends from Clemson.

Becky had a remarkable sense of social justice, and nothing made her angrier than seeing someone lying or cheating to get what they want or being cruel or picking on others. In her world, there was right and wrong and nothing else. She was knowledgeable about many subjects and a perfectionist. She enjoyed helping others solve problems, and she had no qualms about telling them when they were doing something the wrong way.

After leaving her scientific profession, Becky found an outlet for her engineering genius in the kitchen, where she experimented with new dishes from her mother’s cooking magazines. In what she called her “nerdy observation of the day,” Becky once compared making baklava to processing a carbon fiber composite, saying: “The phyllo dough (fiber ply) should be sufficiently wetted with butter (resin), but not too soggy … properly aligned in the baking pan (tooling) … in the oven (autoclave).”

Becky is remembered by her mother Martha, her brothers Ben and Andy, her sister Anna, her uncle Robert, and all her extended family and the many friends from Clemson and Purdue whose lives she enriched with her love of adventure and her kind heart.