BRATTLEBORO -- Family and friends are mourning the death of a woman who was described by one and all as "a vital member of the community" with a "megawatt smile."

Molly McNeil Dowd, 24, died while swimming in the Deerfield River in Conway, Mass., on Sunday, July 6. She was a 2007 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School and lived in a yurt on Bonnyvale Road in Brattleboro. She was the coordinator of the garden at Green Street School and assistant coordinator of the garden at Holton Home, on Western Avenue.

"The most special thing about Molly wasn’t the work she did, it was that she gave so freely of herself to everyone, her kindness and her listening ear," said Chelsea Wiehl, Molly’s sister. "She really cared for people."

Molly’s mother, Katherine Dowd, said her daughter was creative, full of life and intensely smart.

"She had an exuberance, a zest for life, and had always cared about the about people and the earth since she was a little girl," said Katherine. "She was grateful for birdsong, fireflies and friends. She lived in the moment."

According to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office in Northampton, Mass., Molly Dowd was swimming in the Deerfield River with friends when she attempted to cross the river below Dam No. 2 in Conway. Witnesses said Dowd was caught in a whirlpool created by heavy rains and was unable to swim out. On Tuesday, kayakers discovered her body in the river near the Deerfield Academy.

"We are just devastated," said Wiehl, adding her sister’s friends have helped the family cope with their loss. "It’s incredible and a testament to her spirit of who she was. So many people have said how much she touched their lives."

On Wednesday, a man Wiehl did not know before her sister’s death went to Molly’s home garden on Bonnyvale Road to weed it. When Wiehl asked him why, she was told that Molly had weeded his garden one day during his wife’s recent pregnancy.

Lynn Leighton, fourth-grade teacher at Green Street School said before the school year begins, she will have to figure out a way to break the news to the students that worked with Molly.

"She was unbelievably fantastic with the students," said Leighton. "She loved every single child and honored each of them for their own individual strengths." Cindy Jerome, Holton Home’s executive director, said Molly had worked for the past few years as Abi Healey’s assistant in the facility’s garden.

"Last week she was putting in a new garden long after sunset and in the rain, so every resident would have something beautiful outside their window," said Jerome. "Molly was so strong. She planted light and joy for us and we will miss her very much."

Molly McNeil Dowd was born on Sept. 7, 1989, to Katherine and Ernest Dowd.

Plans to commemorate Molly Dowd’s life are still being worked out, but Wiehl said people can do one thing to help remember her until then.

"Give freely of your kindness and love for one another."