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The first thing Alison Schwartz’s loved ones will tell you about her is that no one was a better gift giver.
The 29-year-old New Yorker spent her entire career working at People magazine, starting as an editorial intern in 2010 and climbing the ranks to become the brand’s director of digital platforms.
An animal lover, she at one point ran the pets section and would each week crown the winner of a cutest pet photo contest on Instagram. “They were supposed to win a prize, but it was never really specified, and she would go around the office just looking for things to send to them,” said Whitney Little, 35, one of Alison’s former colleagues. “She wanted it to be specific to each owner and their animal, she would spend hours doing that. She would research what [pet costumes] would fit, and what would fit the most with their personality.”
Nearly everyone Alison loved — and she loved a lot of people — has a story like this about her, her best friend from college, Jared Misner, 29, told BuzzFeed News.
When Misner married his now-husband in 2018, Alison’s gift took a while to be ready. “About a year later, the wedding gift came, and it was a 42-square-foot quilt with all 1,450 words of my husband’s and my wedding vows stitched into it,” Misner said. “And the reason it took so long was Alison — being the exquisite Secret Santa that she is and not wanting to risk her reputation — sent the quilt back twice because there was a comma misplaced or a misspelled word.”
Just weeks before she contracted COVID-19, Alison sent a gift card to a friend who is a nurse to thank her for her work fighting the pandemic.
“Her friend used that gift card to buy masks for her team,” Alison’s brother, Adam Schwartz, 32, told BuzzFeed News. “I think that was Alison — Alison makes the world a better place.”
Alison died from the virus on April 28 — just less than three weeks before she would have celebrated her 30th birthday.
Alison grew up in Wellington, Florida, just outside of Palm Beach. She was a born writer, writing stories since she was a kid. As a teenager, she went to a magnet high school to study journalism, then majored in it at the University of Florida. In college, she was an editor at her school paper, and then got an internship at her dream publication — People — which then hired her full-time right out of college. “I feel like Alison truly lived her dream and in her 29 years accomplished more than any of us will if we live to 100,” her brother, Adam, told BuzzFeed News.
The staff of People are remembering Alison as a beloved colleague who was “gifted yet humble” and “touched everyone’s lives in some way.”
“If you've ever laughed at anything on People.com, chances are high Ali wrote it,” her coworker Alex Apatoff wrote in a tribute to her.
“The first to arrive and the last to leave at your after-work birthday drinks,” added her colleague Kate Hogan.
Alison loved celebrity gossip, dogs, tea, and shopping. She was a massive Taylor Swift fan, and was overjoyed when she got to meet her backstage at one of her concerts in 2015.
When the pandemic struck New York, Alison took all the necessary precautions, Adam said. She self-quarantined with her boyfriend in Westchester, but at the end of March, she became sick.
About a week later, on April 5, her condition worsened and she was having difficulty breathing. Her boyfriend called 911. She was brought to the hospital and was immediately intubated.
For two weeks, she seemed like she might be OK, Adam said. She was awake at times and could FaceTime her family and friends. They spoke to her and she wrote down things in response.
“She was worried about work, in true Alison fashion, and she wanted to make sure her boss knew she was not just blowing off work,” Adam said. “Of course, her boss, who considers her a dear friend, was talking to us every day asking for updates.”
At two points, the doctors attempted to take her off the ventilator, Adam said, but she became sicker, and after the second try, her organs began to fail.
Unable to gather due to the ongoing pandemic, Alison’s friends, family members, and colleagues have gathered on Zoom calls to mourn together.
Once it is safe to do so, her family wants to hold a “huge celebration of Alison” in New York with lots of laughter and stories, a tribute to her life-of-the-party spirit.
“If Alison had her way, [it would probably involve] a drag queen show at some point,” Adam said.
Alison could make you laugh harder than anyone else, said Misner, her best friend from college.
“She was the funniest person you would have ever met,” said Misner. “She would make you laugh in the memo section of a Venmo.”
One April Fools’ Day, former colleague Little recalled, Alison pranked her by sending her a fake press release for an event with Little’s favorite singer, Gavin DeGraw.
“She was so specific with her details on it, listing out other celebrities that would be there,” Little said. “She knew exactly what to put in there that would hook me but also feel really realistic.”
“She was so fun to work with, because she observed all these little quirks about our coworkers,” Little added. “And it was never mean, it was always very good-humored.”
Misner moved to Charlotte after graduation, and despite the distance, he and Alison remained close. They had been planning to take a road trip together somewhere out west in October.
“We always viewed October as our month. We both loved Halloween,” Misner said. “The first time that I unpack my pumpkins or I can’t call my best friend when I wear a scarf for the first time, it’s going to be very, very strange.”
More than anything, Misner said, he’ll miss the things he can’t put into words about his best friend — “talking for hours on the phone, and all the inside jokes that now I don’t know what to do with.”
“It is devastatingly cruel to not be able to just call or text her right now.” he said. “The only person I really want to talk to is the only person I can’t.”
Correction: A photo used in a previous version of this story misidentified Alison's brother, Adam Schwartz.