Hundreds joined Alison Parker's family to remember her 24 years

By Diane Herbst
Updated September 02, 2015 08:00 AM

Alison Parker loved a good party: the music, the food, and the beautiful clothes that hung with natural elegance on her lithe, 5-foot-9 ballet-dancer frame. “She was a force of nature,” both her father and a best friend tell PEOPLE.

Honoring that spirit, on Monday night well over 500 people – who were warned not to wear a speck of black – gathered at a grand meeting hall in her hometown of Martinsville, Virginia to celebrate the 24-year-old TV reporter’s life.

“True to Alison, she was the life of the party,” her boyfriend, Chris Hurst, tells PEOPLE.

“Last night was about as perfect as you would want it, she would have been so happy and pleased,” her father, Andy Parker, tells PEOPLE. “There was no formal service, she would have wanted one big party and that’s what we had. And it was a helluva party.”

For four hours, wine and food flowed for Alison, who was murdered last week while on live TV with her cameraman, Adam Ward. Two different bands performed and the Governor of Virginia attended, mixing with legions of Alison’s friends, colleagues, and a man from the local Kroger’s who Alison made laugh on her shopping trips with Hurst.

“The only announcement we made was, we want you guys to have a good time, introduce each other and tell stories about her,” says Andy. “People were laughing and crying, the range of emotions were there.”

A slideshow across four giant screens showed pictures of Alison’s life.

“I tried to keep my focus on people’s eyes because every time I looked up, it was ‘there’s another memory that ripped my heart out again’,” says Andy. “It was the longest night of my life and it was also the most cherished, because of all the outpouring of love and affection from people.”

Sometime in the near future, Alison’s family and Hurst plan on spreading her ashes on North Carolina’s Nantahala River, where she spent the last weekend of her life paddling with her family, Hurst and a close friend. It was also the locale where she told Hurst last week she wanted to marry him.

“The funeral home wanted to know if we wanted to see her body and we said, absolutely not, that is not how we want to remember her,” says Andy.

“We want that image of her on the river, paddling, that is what we want to take with us, that is how we last saw her.”

“We rented a beautiful cabin up there, it was just perfect. As my wife said, “We have no regrets, we were happy together, we were all in love together, she was in such a good place in her life, even though it was cut short, it was complete.”

During last night’s event, Chris, who was over the moon about Alison, discovered much about the woman he dated for nine romantic months, including a mischievous side that came out when Alison visited her mom at work at a local arts non-profit:

“A woman told me that Alison loved to hide behind doors and try to scare her and as soon as she jumped out of the door and scared the woman she would laugh with her bubbly, effervescent personality,” says Hurst. “That’s basically her in a nutshell.”

Andy Parker was deeply touched by a woman three years younger than Alison. “She said, ‘Mr Parker, I want you to know Alison was my role model,'” he recalls. “We have heard that countless times. She was the daughter every parent would want, every girlfriend a guy would want.”

Both men and Alison’s mom, Barbara, have vowed to fight for tougher gun control laws, starting with their presence at a Washington, D.D. victims of gun violence conference in 10 days.

After the celebration, Hurst joined the Parkers on the deck of their Martinsville home for more stories. Andy says that Hurst will “always be part of this family,” even if he one day finds another love. “And Chris said, ‘Whoever it is, it’s someone you approve of and who Alison approves of.”

Hurst knows he will always keep Alison close.”I looked up into the sky and feeling an incredibly large presence,” he says. “I knew she was with us the whole night.”

Two scholarships have been created in Alison’s memory. Donations for the Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship, which benefits the community college where she took classes while still in high school, can be made online atThe Patrick Henry Community College Foundation.

James Madison University, where Parker graduated in 2012, also set up a fund in her name. The university established the Alison B. Parker Memorial Fund in the School of Media Arts & Design.