Nearly 200 people turned out Saturday afternoon to share fond memories of and bid a tearful farewell to Michael D. Fairbanks, a young man who by all accounts leaves a legacy of kindness, compassion, humor, acceptance of others, and fearless leadership.
Fairbanks, 19, died unexpectedly Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 26, at a home in Elburn.
The large visitation room where the St. Charles East High School graduate’s casket awaited visitors was packed to overflowing for the 2 p.m. service that included scripture readings and prayer, but also a time for his family and friends to step up and, sometimes with tears, other times amid laughter, to share poignant memories of a young man who had deeply touched the lives of those around him.
“We’ve lost such an amazing man so early in his young life,” said one woman, who identified herself as Fairbanks’ aunt and godmother. “He was a dedicated and intelligent young man. … a young man of honor, class, kindness, loved by everyone ...”
The friendships he forged as a student and as an activist were represented at his funeral service Saturday.
Several young women spoke of him as a compassionate, caring friend. One young woman, Samantha, said he was fearless, not even daunted by the sometimes mean encounters he had with others, particularly after they had worked together on decorating a golf cart for their senior homecoming.
Fairbanks, she said, drove the cart, and at the end of the parade, “some not very nice people yelled at us … and he just pulled out his iPod and started playing Diana Ross” singing I Will Survive.
He had been named Youth Leader of the Year in 2009 for his work with the Youth Outlook, a DuPage County organization serving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth.
One of his neighbors, who identified herself as Karen, told of how her daughter Laura grew up alongside Fairbanks, sharing memories of them playing together in the snow at a young age. Before stepping away from the podium in tears, she spoke of the outpouring of love and kindness he had for those around him.
Another particularly poignant moment came as a young man, Dan, spoke of his friendship with Fairbanks throughout high school, where they performed together in the school choir. Both sang tenor, he said, and at one point, Fairbanks dubbed them the Tenor Boys Association to counter the view that “boys who sing high are not looked on well.”
Dan concluded by singing one verse of Amazing Grace, drawing more than one tear and plenty of applause.
Some of the shared memories brought laughter. Fairbanks was known for a sense of humor, and for his fascination with Oprah Winfrey, among other diverse interests ranging from music to theater to wildlife.
“I met Michael on the first day of rehearsal of High School Musical 2,” recalled one young woman. “I knew we would be good friends right away when he came up to me and asked if I had seen that hot guy that just walked by — and he was right. I thought that guy was hot, too.”
Fairbanks was a leader of the Gay Straight Alliance at St. Charles East High School, where he graduated in January 2012.
Fairbanks, she said, “was the most amazing guy I have ever known.”
“He was obsessed with Oprah,” said a young woman named Kat, who recalled students came to recognize the “Oprah” signatures that sometimes appeared in unexpected places as the work for Fairbanks.
“It’s not going to be the same without him,” she said.
His sister, Elle, also noted his fascination with Oprah, pointing out that while she was at boot camp, her drill sergeant pulled out an envelope addressed to Elle with Oprah's name on the return address. He paused, and asked, "How the hell do you know Oprah?"
She then learned he had written it "I am so proud of you” and mailed it himself.
One of his cousins, a young woman named Sarah, struggled to speak through tears and a voice taut with emotion. “He’s just a very special person,” she said. “He’s touched so many lives.”
She recalled him as someone who, once he had decided he wanted to do something, would work hard to make it happen. As an example, she described how he became enamored of the cello, which he then began playing at age 9 and eventually played with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.
“He could do whatever he wanted to do,” she said, adding that his death serves as a reminder: “Don’t take things or people or anything for granted.
“There is so much love in this room,” she added, acknowledging all those in attendance. “We love you Michael and miss you so much.”
Fairbanks was a student at Elgin Community College at the time of his death and planned to continue his education in Colorado.
He also had been active in the Fox Valley Repertory.
- Thursday, Feb. 29, 2013: Funeral Services Set for Michael D. Fairbanks
- Obituary: Michael D Fairbanks
- Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013: St. Charles Teen Found Dead in Elburn Home
Editor's note: The story related by Fairbanks' sister, Elle, was revised to reflect needed corrections.