Payton Chester’s elementary school principal remembers the girl and her mother, Sarah, as “two gorgeous human beings.”
“While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important,” Todd Schmidt, former principal of Harbor View Elementary School in Corona del Mar, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “Their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken.”
The Chesters were among the nine victims of Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas that also claimed Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Payton, also 13, was one of Gianna’s teammates on Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy girls’ club basketball team. The crash occurred on the way to a game.
“As a principal, we work with some amazing families. The Chesters were one of those. Engaged, supportive, encouraging and full of mischief and laughter. And they had the best kiddos! This family made such a huge impact at Harbor View. They were genuine, kind-hearted and caring to the staff, to other families and yes, especially to me,” Schmidt wrote alongside photos of a beaming Payton. “You were both the embodiment of #hvepride, and the world is just a little less without you both in it. May you both rest in peace and know the deep impact you had on our lives. You will be so sorely missed.”
Payton attended Harbor View from preschool through fifth grade, according to posts on Facebook. She moved on to the private St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, where she was in eighth grade. Sarah was on the St. Margaret’s board of trustees.
In a statement issued through St. Margaret’s, the Chester family said Payton and Sarah, 45, were “the lights of our family.”
“Payton had a smile and personality that would light any room and a passion for the game of basketball. She found joy on any court and loved all of her teammates and coaches,” the family said. “Sarah was full of life and the glue of our family. She was a tireless force in support of her family. The love we feel from so many today is a testament to the community she created for us.
“We were all blessed to be a part of Team Mamba, and we will always remember the fun and love that we all shared.”
Sarah’s Facebook page is filled with photos of her family of five at the beach and dressed up for holiday celebrations and family vacations. She is survived by her husband, Chris, and sons, Riley and Hayden.
Sarah Chester graduated from Whittier College in 1997, college President Linda Oubré said in a statement Monday.
She played volleyball for the Poets, as the athletes for the liberal-arts school are known. Whittier was a family tradition — her mother worked at the college and her two brothers also were alumni. It also was where she met her husband.
A representative of Tustin Memorial Academy in Santa Ana said Sarah had worked at the school as a teacher and left to dedicate more time to her family.
Lainie Johnson-Mann described her as a proud mom who dedicated herself to her children. Sarah taught Johnson-Mann’s son Travis when he was in kindergarten.
“Family was her world,” Johnson-Mann said.
“The world lost a beloved athlete and a basketball star,” Johnson-Mann said, referring to Bryant. “But in our world, the people that knew Sarah lost far more.”
Payton’s brother Riley shared a photo on Instagram of his mother and sister in tribute to his family.
“Rest in peace to the most amazing mother and sister,” he wrote. “I love you Pay Pay and Mom. RIP❤❤.”
Hillary Davis is a Daily Pilot staff writer. Colleen Shalby writes for the Los Angeles Times.