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Living life to the limit

It was the morning of Friday, July 7, when fourUniversity graduates, living in four different states and charting four different courses with their lives, got the same chilling phone call. University alumni John Rodney, Kate Baylor, Thomas Hall and Peyton Jenkins all heard the same sad news -- their close friend, David Magoon, also a University alum, had tragically passed away just hours earlier.

Rodney, who graduated in 2004, met Magoon before his first year at the University. He was absolutely stunned when he heard about Magoon's accident. "I had just started my third year of medical school, so I was in the hospital on my rotations," Rodney said. "I kept getting all these text messages and phone calls from my friends. I knew it must have been important, so I excused myself and they told me to come outside. I was on 69th and York, in front of the hospital. When they told me, I just lost it."

Baylor, who graduated in 2005, was the queen of the IMP society while Magoon was the king. She said she needed to know more about Magoon's death to believe it.

"I'm a nurse, so initially I needed to know the medical side of it," Baylor said. "I needed to know why David died. Once he told me, I just lost it."

Hall, a recent graduate of the University Law School, met Magoon when they were both Jefferson Scholars.

"I was in the library at the Law School," Hall said. "Boy, it hit me like a punch in the stomach. I just couldn't believe it."

Peyton, a 2004 graduate, met Magoon in his second year of college. It took him some time to actually believe he would never see Magoon again.

"I was at work here in D.C. and one of my best friends called me," Jenkins said. "I walked outside and when he told me I couldn't believe it. My first reaction was that this was a terrible joke. I think most people had that same sort of reaction."

Magoon's life ended in Boston during the brisk morning hours of July 7. When Magoon went to retrieve some sweaters for two female friends of his, he reportedly slipped while climbing a fire escape in his Back Bay apartment and fell three stories.

"Much of what everyone is dealing with is the suddenness of a death like this," Baylor said. "It is very difficult to process. Especially when the person who died had been so healthy like David was. It was so sudden."

Magoon graduated from the University in 2003 after majoring in political and social thought. After graduation, his passions for traveling lead him to study abroad in Valencia, Spain for a year. Upon returning to the States, Magoon was excited to begin studying at Harvard Medical School. About a month ago, he had just begun clinical work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of the nation's top hospitals. His friends claimed his passionate love for medicine and for learning was unlike anyone else's.

"In med school, we have to take these courses that are, for some people, very monotonous," Rodney said. "Magoon would always be excited about it. I had a talk with him about a year ago at Foxfield and he was so excited about learning about some extremely rare, genetic disease. I was like, you've gotta be kidding me."

Bill Wilson, an assistant dean in the College, knew Magoon well.

"He was an excellent student," Wilson said. "He had a 3.9 [GPA] and he was just a brilliant, brilliant student. Everyone who taught him told me he was a first-rate student."

Magoon's brilliance in the classroom and at the University was something Ben Skipper, Magoon's close friend, will always admire. Skipper and Magoon met when they were first-years and they later lived on the Lawn together. In an e-mail correspondence, Skipper described Magoon in just the way everyone else did -- as a hardworking, enthusiastic person.

"Extremely intelligent, David always did very well academically and he put in the time to get the grades and scores required of an individual to be accepted into Harvard Medical School," Skipper said.

Magoon, however, was much more than a smart, enthusiastic student. His infectious personality and desire to help others made him the perfect candidate to become a doctor.

"He had a real passionate concern for people," Wilson said. "It wasn't anything forced, it wasn't anything studied, it was just part of his everyday comportment. He wanted to do really good things for people and he didn't want to get noticed for it."

Even Magoon's friends, like Rodney, noticed Magoon's undying desire to help others."He genuinely enjoyed seeing other people do well and he would do whatever he could to watch that happen," Rodney said. "He loved bringing people up and helping them feel better about themselves. He was one of the most generous and altruistic people I've ever met."

Magoon participated in many organizations and activities, continually seeking to impact society and make the lives of those around him more comfortable.

"The thing that was so remarkable is that he was enrolled in so many things at U.Va.," Rodney said. "He was incredible. He was always seeking new and exciting experiences with his friends. He was unbelievably humble, yet unbelievably talented and altruistic." Magoon was a Jefferson scholar, an Echols scholar, a Lawn resident, a DKE brother, king of the IMP Society and a member of several other secret societies. But no matter how busy he was with pre-med work and various activities, he always had time to support his friends. Baylor said he will certainly miss being able to count on Magoon's unconditional friendship.

"He was involved with so many different things, but he always had time for you," Baylor said. "He was always ready to go. He was just always there for you when you needed him."

Likewise, Jenkins will miss Magoon's exceptional loyalty.

"He was willing to give everything and all of his time and effort to help out a friend," Jenkins said. "The thing that I'll always take from him is that he was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most loyal friend that I know. Yet, in the heat of the moment, when your loyalty is drawn to the line, he remained the voice of reason. David leaves behind the University, his friends and his family a legacy of love, compassion, and loyalty."

Magoon refused to associate with only one or two groups of people. Jenkins said he believes that the "Equality" sticker Magoon posted on his Lawn room door stood for who he was.

Sandy Gilliam, secretary to the Board of Visitors, said he has great memories of Magoon.

"Magoon lived on the Lawn during his last year of college, which is just down from my office," Gilliam said. "He was a great character. When he finished his thesis, he took up darts. At 10 o'clock at night, he would set up the dart board and set up a light and he would invite passersby to play darts."

A true testimonial to just how many people Magoon extended his friendship to was at the reception after his funeral, held on July 10 in a large Presbyterian church in Canton, Ohio. After the funeral, a group of about 35 of his close friends celebrated Magoon's life at a restaurant. Although the restaurant usually closes at 10 p.m., it remained open until 4 a.m., when Magoon's friends decided to leave. They spent the entire night laughing, crying and sharing stories about Magoon. The most notable aspect of the dinner was that no single person knew everyone else. In fact, many of them did not know about 90 percent of Magoon's other friends.

"A hallmark of David's character was his innate ability to connect with almost every person he spent a few minutes with," Skipper said. "It was very evident at his memorial service when people realized there was a sanctuary filled beyond capacity with a thousand of David's best friends."

The excitement and illumination Magoon brought to the lives of those he touched will never be forgotten, and his friends are trying to preserve Magoon's memory as much as they can. Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs, cared a great deal about Magoon, and Jenkins said she proposed an annual dart tournament in his honor. Gilliam has also raised a way of preserving Magoon's legacy at the University.

"If you walk down the Lawn now, you can see marks on the brick wall right beside the door where he kept score from his dart games," Gilliam said. "Hopefully, the marks can be preserved."Bethany Dick, who graduated in 2003, met Magoon during the spring of 1999, when they were both finalists for the Jefferson Scholarship. In Magoon's honor, Dick created a blog on her MySpace account where friends and family can post all their memories of Magoon.

"He was just loved by everyone and he had so many close friends that I felt like sharing memories on MySpace," Dick said. "It's pretty far-reaching. It is really incredible for me to see this huge testimonial of how amazing he was. I didn't want to put sad stories on it, I wanted to put funny stories to make people laugh."

While Magoon's friends are honoring him in various ways, all of them are focusing on celebrating Magoon's life rather than mourning his loss. It is unanimously agreed upon that Magoon loved his family, his friends, his life and his University.

"His uncle gave a eulogy at the funeral and he said we have to stop saying that David was cheated out of life," Baylor said. "What we need to start thinking is the quality of life that he lived. David lived an extraordinarily high quality of life. He lived a good life. Thinking of his life in this way has helped me live with his loss."

Hall, too, admired how Magoon took advantage of every minute of his life.

"David filled his life to the very brim," Hall said. "I don't know anyone who took more advantage of life. He lived life to the fullest. Being at the funeral was a really cathartic experience and it was a real source of support."Magoon's friends said they would always remember his unbelievably positive attitude, his love of life and his extraordinary smile.

"He always looked at things through a clear glass," Jenkins said. "Every single picture you see is his ear-to-ear smile. He wore that every single day of his life. No matter what, whenever you saw him, he was always wearing that trademark smile of his."