It’s not clear what ended the life of Lisa Corthell, who was discovered dead in bed Jan. 12 at her Gloucester County home.
But there’s no doubting the impact she had on women desperate enough for heroin to sell themselves on Camden’s mean streets.
”Lisa had a love for the lost," her boss, Bill Antinore, told a standing-room crowd at her memorial service at the Boucher Funeral Home in Deptford. “It wasn’t just a job. It was an actual calling. She could identify with the ladies on the street, because she had been in that situation.”
Said Danielle Brubaker, whom Corthell befriended and assisted: “Lisa was that glimmer of hope. She was someone like us, who had been living the way we were living and was able to change.”
Antinore and his wife, Brenda, both of whom are in long-term recovery from addiction, are the founders and leaders of Seeds of Hope. Their Camden ministry helped Corthell get clean more than five years ago, and last fall they hired her to work with Brenda’s “She Has a Name” program, helping addicted, often homeless women who work as prostitutes to get off the street and into rehab.
“Lisa was my assistant, outreach, in-reach, and on-the-ground wing woman,” said Brenda. “All of us really were blindsided by her passing.”
She and others do not believe Corthell, 39, relapsed. Her mother, Kathy Lackey, said her daughter had cardiac issues and had battled depression.
An investigation into Corthell’s death is continuing, said Thomas Gilbert, chief of staff and spokesperson for the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office.
On Sunday, more than 100 people — family, friends, people in recovery, and others who continue to struggle — attended the celebration of life for a woman who had gone through the hell of heroin, found faith, and then carried the message.
Corthell was remembered as an energetic and compassionate atheist turned believer with a fierce commitment to other women in need of help, a person who would quote a Bible verse in one breath and in the next tell you what was what in the bluntest secular terms.
"A changed life is the greatest evidence of the power of God,” said Lucy DuBose, whose Faces of Change ministry in Camden works with Seeds of Hope. Like Corthell and the Antinores, DuBose also found recovery after years of drug abuse.
“It’s hardcore out there,” she said. “We’re trying to be a lifeline."
Lackey, a nanny who lives in Glassboro, spoke about her daughter in present and past tense.
“Lisa has a strong personality," she said. "She’s very rebellious, very smart, stubborn.... She had a style all her own.
“Even when she was a kid, she always felt bad for people. She would give you the shirt off her back. She really would,” said Lackey. “That was a trait she always had, and I think that’s how she became such a strong leader, helping people.”
Corthell grew up mostly in Glassboro and lived with her father in Florida for several years after her parents divorced. She later was injured in an accident and got addicted to painkillers, then heroin. She was sentenced to two years in state prison after her conviction on a theft-by-deception charge, and not long after her release, she relapsed, ending up on the streets in Camden.
“It was a very dark time for her,” said Lackey. “It was a nightmare.”
Relapse is common among people trying to recover from addiction, which is tenacious. But Corthell was tenacious as well, eventually agreeing to go to detox and then to the Hoving Home in New York, part of an informal network of Christian rehab programs with which Seeds of Hope has a working relationship.
It was there that Brubaker, then a client, met up with Corthell, who was working at the facility.
“She was assigned to be my big sister," Brubaker said. "It was insane to see somebody I’d been using with on the street be clean and looking totally different. She was able to be a human again. Living the way we were living, you’re not treated like a human being. Lisa treated me like a human being.”
Condolences left on the Boucher Funeral Home website were equally heartfelt.
She never gave up on me, no matter the situation. I will miss her so much.
You played such a role in my recovery. You greatly impacted so many women and you will be greatly missed.
Lisa truly was a lovable, supportive, passionate, honest, loyal, and most of all a person you could ALWAYS count on.
The messages are comforting, said Lackey.
“That’s what keeps me going, actually,” she said.