Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Dawn Hochsprung, 47 (AP Photo/Eliza Hallabeck / December 16, 2012)

Dawn Hochsprung kept politics out of her professional life.

But after the November election, Hochsprung, a registered Democrat, couldn't help sounding off to her Facebook friends in an exuberant post using the pseudonym "Dinna Fash," a term for "don't worry."

"Happy for my daughters, whose right to make decisions about their own bodies are preserved for four more years. Just happy."

Five weeks later, the president would hold Hochsprung's 6-month-old granddaughter, Alyson, and pinch her little cheeks during a meeting with loved ones of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

"She was the biggest Obama fan," Hochsprung's daughter, Erica Lafferty said in an interview with The Courant on Tuesday night. "That would have been the highlight of her life."

Family and friends gathered Thursday for Hochsprung's funeral in Woodbury, where she lived with her husband, George. The hilly Litchfield County town of nearly 10,000 residents is about 15 miles from the Newtown school where she and 20 children and five school staff members were killed Friday.

Tuesday night, solemn mourners holding burning candles stood in pouring rain on the town green in Naugatuck, where Hochsprung graduated from high school in 1983, to remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal's life — 47 years marked by a string of both personal and professional milestones.

Loving daughter. Hard-working student-athlete. Passionate, award-winning teacher. Admired school principal. Devoted wife. Dedicated mother and grandmother.

And someone who ran toward the gunfire instead of away from it, an act worthy of acknowledgment by the president of the United States.

"We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate," President Obama said in a memorial service last week in Newtown.

"Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D'Avino and Anne Marie Murphy. They responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances with courage and with love giving their lives to protect the children in their care."

Friends and family shocked by her death were hardly surprised at Hochsprung's actions in her final moments. Though petite, Hochsprung was a tested force in many aspects of her life, a champion for children, for equal rights and above all, for her daughters.

"She was the kid that every parent would want to have, the student that every teacher would want in the classroom, the athlete that every coach would want on their team, the schoolteacher every parent would want their child to have, the administrator that every community would want to lead their school," Ron Aliciene, Hochsprung's high school track coach, said.

Hochsprung was born in Towanda, Pa., on June 28, 1965. When she was 12, her father, William Lafferty, an engineer, moved his wife, son and daughter to Naugatuck after a job transfer.

Young Dawn Lafferty loved to play outdoors and read. She was also a tomboy with a love of sports she took with her into high school.

Though she wasn't a star athlete, teenage Dawn stood out in other ways, Aliciene, 63, now retired, said. She made her mark as a hard-working student athlete with a keen sense of social justice, eager to help out in school. She was captain of her sports teams and in student government. She learned early that she liked to lead.

"She was blessed with remarkable leadership skills," Aliciene said. "She had the drive and determination to overcome any challenge."

When the Naugatuck High boys track program refused to let her run sprints on the boys team, Hochsprung fought back, taking her case to the school board, Aliciene said. She won her case and recruited girls from throughout the school for the team.

"Dawn was like a pioneer," said Aliciene, the coach from 1979 until 1986. "She asked questions at the time like, 'Why should girls only play with dolls?' "

After high school, Hochsprung took classes at Naugatuck Valley Community College and Post University before settling into Central Connecticut State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in special education.