She had a contagious smile and a wonderful laugh.
Christmastime was "her time of year" and picking out the tree was her job. As the "head cousin," younger siblings and cousins looked up to her as a role model.
Victoria "Vicki" Soto, the Newtown teacher who sacrificed her life to save those of her adoring first-grade students, was laid to rest Wednesday.
Hundreds gathered for a funeral service at Lordship Community Church to share fond memories and say goodbye to the woman who's being proclaimed a national heroine for her selfless acts during last week's school shooting massacre.
"You are in so many people's hearts," said Soto's sister, Jillian. "For the 19 children you protected you were an angel [and] you've been my hero my entire life. I'm so proud of you and all you did in your 27 years. Your pain in the butt sister, Jillian."
Soto was the oldest of four siblings. Carlee Soto said she became a college student because of her big sister, and now that she's passed there's no one to proofread her essays or pick her outfits.
"My best friend is gone and I am so lost without her," she said. "The pain is unbelievable but I know I can get through this [because I knew Vicki]. I am proud to say I'm Victoria Soto's little sister."
Cousins, an aunt and a college roommate said Soto was an energetic, funny, fearless, sarcastic and inspirational person who loved being together with her large family, especially around Christmas.
"Vicki was a ball of energy with an incredible personality," said the college roommate, Rachel, who roomed with Soto at Eastern Connecticut State University. Rachel said Soto loved chicken parm and always slept with her teddy bear. She was goofy in a good way, she said. "If you were friends with Vicki, she probably had a nickname for you."
"There was never a dull moment with Vicki," said a cousin. "You could never be found without a smile on your face. Vicki may have been my cousin by blood but she was my best friend by choice."
"She truly made you feel loved every day," said another cousin.
Rev. Meg Boxwell Williams led the service and told Soto's parents that they raised an incredible woman and that life is not weighed by years, but by the impact of that life and the richness of relations.
By that rationale, many won't get to what Soto achieved if they live to be 100, she said, calling the teacher's courage "Christ-like."