By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – On May 17, a beautiful, clear sunny Saturday morning, a ceremony was held at the Pine Grove Cemetery to honor the approximately 500 former patients of the Westborough State Hospital who are buried there.
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, if a patient at the state hospital passed away without any family members to take care of their final arrangements, they would be buried in the Potter’s Field at the cemetery, with only a small numbered stone to mark their grave.
Over the past three years, a group of dedicated volunteers has aimed to bring those patients dignity and respect. It is their hope that enough funds will be raised so that a permanent memorial can be installed at the cemetery.
During the May 17 ceremony, approximately 100 people gathered next to the burial grounds to listen to guest speakers and music as they reflected upon those lives that have been mostly forgotten until now.
One of those in attendance was Ronald St. Laurent, whose great-grandfather Carroll Willie Childs had been a patient at the state hospital in the 1950s. Prior to the ceremony, St. Laurent’s wife, Anita and daughter Mealon, searched for Childs’ grave.
St. Laurent noted that he did not have a lot of information about Childs and how he ended up at the state hospital.
“So when I heard about this event, I really wanted to come here,” he said. “It’s our way of honoring him.”
George Barrette, a member of the Westborough Board of Selectmen and project committee member, served as master of ceremonies for the event. As he thanked those gathered, he noted that Glenn Malloy had “served as the catalyst and godfather of the project.” Barrette also acknowledged the contributions of Westborough Boy Scouts Tim Sherman and Colin Caron, who each worked for hours helping to identify and then marking the graves. Barbara Banks then did “an incredible job,” Barrette noted, matching up the graves found by the Scouts with records from Town Hall to create a master database.
Malloy spoke for a few moments to the audience, sharing deeply personal details from his life, as a man who has struggled with mental illness.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering [candle] he will not snuff out,” he said, quoting scripture from Isaiah 42:3.
Noting that he, too, as the patients had been, were “bruised reeds.”
“Your kindness, your goodness and your humility has turned a curse into a blessing,” he told those gathered. “Your presence here sends a message restoring dignity to them.”
Michael Mack mesmerized the audience with a recitation of a poem, “By Heart,” that he wrote about his mother’s struggles with schizophrenia. After decades, much of which was spent in hospitals, halfway houses, jails, and on the street, she finally received the correct help that she needed, he said.
Other guest speakers included Diane Gould, CEO, Advocates; Heidi Trainor, Tara McNeely, and Sarah Utka, Cemetery Committee members; and Nancy Kehoe, a nun with the Society of the Sacred Heart. Music was performed by Alan Crane.
After the ceremony, guests laid down pavers that will serve as the base of the memorial. The committee hopes to eventually have the names of the patients inscribed on the stones at a later date.
For those who wish to make a donation, send checks made out to the “Westborough Cemetery Memorial Project Fund” and mail to P.O. Box 3198, Framingham, MA 01705.
Donations can also be made via the group’s Facebook page http://facebook.com/WestboroStateHospitalCemeteryProject and by clicking on the “Go Fund Me Link,” http://facebook.com/WestboroStateHospitalCemeteryProject. All donations are tax deductible.