Here’s to a fearless, genuine woman who changed lives

Just weeks ago I was at Happy Gillis celebrating my co-worker’s 50th birthday. We had margaritas, salsa, chips and more baked goods than I can remember. I wouldn’t expect less from a foodie like her.

Now I have to think about Lauren Chapin in a different way. After her unexpected and untimely death this week from an aneurysm, what I have is memories to keep her alive in my heart.

This is the woman, the newspaper’s restaurant critic, who broke all the rules of my diet. When I first moved here, I didn’t eat beef or pork and I didn’t drink much, either. But she had a sort of don’t-ask, just-taste thing she did with me. Over the years she’d gotten me to try things I never would have on my own: foie gras, chorizo and the richest of truffles.

Our lunches and dinners weren’t just about trying new food. It was also girl-talk time. She had a knack for knowing when something was wrong.

Maybe it’s because as a mom she was always so insightful. But she could look right past my smile and into my eyes and just know when I had a problem. When I went through the hardest break-up I’d ever endured, she saw right through my Little Miss Independent front.

We sorted it all out over fries, sandwiches, a salad and almost every dessert the Mixx offers. I could tell her anything, and she never judged me. She assured me that these growing pains would pass.

When it came from someone as confident and bold as she, you had no choice but to believe it to be true and cheer up. She taught me how to really enjoy a meal, to have a go at Champagne and scallops. The bubbles weren’t just for special occasions, in her book.

Her sense of adventure didn’t stop with food. The first time I walked through a corn maze was with her and her family. She laughed when the sun set and I got a little scared. The first time I threw caution to the wind and got on a trampoline was with her kids. They almost bounced me off that big thing. And she caught it all on camera.

I was just glad no one had any pictures of us from that Friday night four years ago. I got unbelievably drunk for the first time. I don’t know how it happened. I just know it involved a few baskets of pomme frites, mussels, lots of chocolate martinis and the sweetest wine I ever tasted. I haven’t messed with wine since.

Every time somebody brought it up, we’d burst out laughing.

When I was looking for things to accomplish before I turned 30, I knew I had to ask her. She suggested two things: traveling overseas and skinny-dipping. In fact, she was shocked I hadn’t done the latter by now. She also reminded me not to worry about what didn’t happen before 30, because I would have a whole other list to make of things to do before I turned 50.

I was reading a story the other day in

The New York Times

about office families. Most Americans spend just as much time with their co-workers as their families. Offices frequently reflect a family vibe.

Mine is no different. In my department, there’s the office mom, the dad, aunties, sibling rivalries and a crazy uncle or two. And Lauren, a fearless, genuine and wild woman, remains my office sister.

I don’t know if changing someone’s life for the better was on her list of things to do before she turned 50. But she did. And for that, I will always be thankful.