Rachel Ober Burrell, a frequent visitor to the Vineyard, died Wednesday, Oct. 10, in Cincinnati, Ohio, surrounded by her family. She was 79 years old.

Mrs. Burrell and her husband co-founded the Fernside Center for Grieving Children after the death of their son, David, in 1982. He was a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati when he was hit and killed by a car while riding his bicycle home. Three years later, Mrs. Burrell viewed an ABC News report by Peter Jennings about the Dougy Center in Portland, Ore., the nation’s first center for grieving children.

That news story and a subsequent trip to Oregon inspired her to start the nation’s second such program. With a $4,500 grant from the Junior League of Cincinnati, Fernside first opened at a Presbyterian church in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati and initially served 16 children and 12 adults. Now, more than 800 children, teens and adults attend the program’s support groups every year.

The Burrells’ philosophy was rooted in self expression. Children were given license to draw pictures, act out feelings with puppets, dress up in costumes and put on plays, write stories and poems, talk to loved ones on play telephones, and laugh and cry. They were also encouraged to talk to each other about their feelings, their sadness, life, death and how to go on.

Born in Akron, Ohio, Mrs. Burrell learned to read notes from sheet music before she could read words in a book and was soon recognized as a piano prodigy. She studied music at Connecticut College for Women and graduated in 1950 with a bachelor of arts degree. Connecticut College awarded her the Sarah Nichols Cup for the greatest contribution to musical life on campus. From 1950 to 1953, she pursued graduate studies in musicology and composition at Columbia University and worked closely with Professor Paul Henry Lang.

But instead of finishing her master’s degree, she got married. While at a funeral in 1951 in Akron, Rachel met her future mother in law, who introduced her to Paul Burrell on the basis that he had also gone to Columbia. Normally very choosy about her dates, she couldn’t find any fault with him.

They were married in 1953 and remained so until his death in 2001. They moved to Cincinnati in 1962, when he became a professor of French literature at the University of Cincinnati. In addition to raising four children, Mrs. Burrell volunteered at the Eastern Avenue Community Center and served as a den mother for the Boy Scouts and as a PTA vice president at Kilgour School. She loved to attend performances of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and she was an avid traveler with a deep fondness for cathedrals, capitol buildings in any state, the beaches and dunes around Northport, Mich. and the sights and company of good friends in Barcelona, Spain. She was also renowned in small but very satisfied circles for her culinary skills: lasagna, chili and chocolate chip cookies. An avid storyteller, she had a gift for good timing and easy laughter.

Survivors include Ann Burrell and Peter Burrell, both of Cincinnati, Christopher Burrell of East Boston, and grandsons Harvey Burrell of Concord and Vineyard Haven and Pip and Bjorn Burrell of Cincinnati.

A mass of Christian burial was held at St. Mary Church in Hyde Park. Contributions in her memory may be made to Fernside Center for Grieving Children, Box 633597, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45236-3597.