Bridget O’Donnell, the five-year-old girl killed in a car accident at the 14A Turnpike exit along with her father, Tim, in February 2016, would have been a kindergarten student at Walter F. Robinson School today. On Thursday, June 8, the school commemorated her by dedicating a courtyard reading bench and statue to Bridget, whose favorite activity was reading.
Local mothers pooled resources to purchase 100 copies Bridget’s favorite book, “Monsters Love Underpants,” for kindergarten and pre-k students. The books are stored on a multicolored rolling bookshelf that Bridget’s grandfather, John Starita, 77, made himself, writing “Bridget’s Garden” on top.
The bench reads, “Bridget O’Donnell Forever In Our Hearts.” To its left sits a small bronze statue depicting Bridget with her characteristic bangsand overalls while reading a book. “It really captures her as a little girl but also as a rough and tumble girl,” said Bridget’s mother, Pam O’Donnell.“She liked to play in the mud.”
Every elementary school in Bayonne will receive a copy of her favorite book. “One hundred years from now the bench might go away, but the memory stays,” Starita said.
At the end of the ceremony kindergarten students came together and sang a rendition of Hi-5’s “Inside My Heart.” Two of Bridget’s best friends gave Bridget’s mother flowers and a hug.
“I am so proud to be a part of this ceremony,” said Principal Maryann Connelly, who described Bridget as having had a big and open heart.“In fact, I am going out to buy a copy this afternoon for my grandchildren.”
“It’s ironic that this is her favorite book because she herself was a little monster in the cutest of ways, but she never wore underpants.” – Pam O’Donnell
“It’s ironic that this is her favorite book because she herself was a little monster in the cutest of ways, but she never wore underpants,” said O’Donnell. “In fact, we were lucky if she wore clothes at all.” Pam recalled once taking her daughters to Burger King in Jersey City, asking them to find a seat, and then finding Bridget unclothed and waiting at the table with her older and clothed sister, Ali, now 8 years old, who attends Robinson School.
Joining O’Donnell at the ceremony were former classmates, now kindergartners, teachers, administrators, family members, and city officials.The two O’Donnell family members lost in that accident made up a daughter, sister, granddaughter, father, and husband. O’Donnell said mourning would have been more difficult if not for the support of the Robinson school, which she likened to an extended family.
“There is no way to explain the hurt and sorrow that my family and those who knew Bridget and her dad experienced on a daily basis,” O’Donnell said. “I often think of where she is now, and there is no doubt she would be surrounded by flowers, much like this reading garden. To know the children will be able to come here to escape reality, and go off to Neverland or somewhere over the rainbow, even if just for a period or two could not be a more fitting tribute to a girl who was taken too soon.”
In her concluding remarks, O’Donnell instructed the crowd, “And please, drive safe.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.