Peggy Osborne Rice

Mother honors daughter's memory by helping other addicts

In April 2012, Peggy Osborne Rice came home to find her 24-year-old daughter, Autumn Coleman, on the floor of her bedroom. Her daughter’s boyfriend was passed out on the bed, no more than an arm’s length away.

“My first thought was ‘Girl, what are you doing?’ ” Rice said. She thought Autumn had fallen asleep on the floor.

But when she walked to her daughter, she realized something had gone horribly wrong. Autumn had died of a heroin overdose.

In the months and years after her daughter’s death, Rice struggled with how to move forward. “After it happened, I spent two or three years in a dream world,” she said. “Emotionally, I wasn’t there to connect with everyone around me.”

One day, though, she decided enough was enough. She concluded she needed to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.

“I got up one day and got tired of being mad,” said Rice, now 56 and living near Marysville. “It was like her telling me, ‘Mom, just stop being mad. Stop.’ ”

In 2015, Rice and her family started “Autumn’s Way Thru Helping Others,” a foundation that provides support and information for opioid users and others. The group sells shirts and bracelets to provide financial assistance for funerals, pay for IDs needed to enter rehab and assist the needy in any way they can. The group receives donations, including money and personal items.

Rice often drives around Columbus neighborhoods and passes out those supplies (hygiene products, clothes, food and more) in small “street bags.” Since founding the group, Rice estimates she has helped 150 people get into clinics or rehabilitation programs and has handed out between 3,000 and 5,000 street bags.

She will even drive people to clinics if they cannot get there themselves.

“She just works so hard. It’s truly remarkable what she does,” said Misty Greeley, Rice’s 36-year-old daughter and Autumn’s older sister, who works with her mother on Autumn’s Way. “It’s not easy for her to see these people out here. She knows they’re hungry, she knows they don’t want to live like this.”

Born in Missouri and raised in Big Sandy, West Virginia, Rice came to Ohio to escape an abusive relationship and create a better life for herself and her two children.

She started her own painting company in Columbus and worked for nearly 20 years before retiring 15 years ago. Autumn’s Way has had her full-time attention since its founding. Her big goal now is to gain nonprofit status for the group so she can expand the operation and help more people.

“It brings tears to my eyes to think about the kind of person she is,” said Jennifer Ball, a friend of Rice’s who has donated to Autumn’s Way several times. “She has taken what she went through and has made it into such a positive thing.”

More than seven years since her daughter’s death, Rice continues to visit Autumn’s grave at Green Lawn Cemetery every other day. Blue, red and purple flowers line the stone in a half-circle. Most of them are blue, as it was Autumn’s favorite. A small football sits among the flowers, a memorial to her love of Ohio State football.

Rice keeps a visible reminder of Autumn with her at all times: a tattoo of a blue butterfly on her upper left arm.

“A butterfly and its wings represent the need to always be free,” she said. “She just had the biggest heart. There are good and bad days, just missing her.”

Rice also lost her 32-year-old niece, Samantha Dalton, to an overdose in 2017. She intends to continue pushing with her organization to make sure what happened to Autumn doesn’t happen to someone else.

“I knew that if something wasn’t done,” she said, “I would just not survive. I want to do more.”