April 6, 2012 By Pat Dorfman
More than 1,000 mourners crowded into Woodside’s St. Mary’s Winfield Church Thursday morning, with hundreds more outside, to show respect to the Staunton–O’Dowd family, who suffered the loss of young Rory Staunton.
Rory fell ill last week after a light scrape while playing basketball. Four days later, a freakish infection took over his body and the 12-year passed away, leaving his family, friends, and the rest of the community in shock.
The two-hour service included scores of tributes. Rory’s 7th grade teacher from Garden School, where Rory was in 7th grade, broke down during his remarks. He praised Rory’s “big heart,” and debating skills, and said that Rory was “the most precocious 12-year old” he had ever taught. He mentioned Rory’s “insatiable passion for life,” and his willingness to stand alone to defend those picked on or in trouble.
A violinist, guitarist and soprano performed throughout. The service included moving mainstream songs, such as “You Raise Me Up,” which accompanied the two giant video screens on each side of the altar, displaying scenes of Rory’s life. Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” captured the sentiment of many speakers who spoke of hoping to see Rory again someday. The service was broadcast in its entirety to family and friends in England, Ireland and Australia.
Many came to the service from Ireland to pay their respects. Additionally, there were several elected officials in attendance, including: Congressman Joseph Crowley; Assemblywomen Cathy Nolan and Marge Markey, Council speaker Christine Quinn; and Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Danny Dromm.
A group of Sunnyside mothers were asked to eulogize Rory, which they did, often using the tributes of his friends, their own children. One mother noted that she saw Rory’s kindness when he bought her and her child red and green candies at the store with his own money, showing support for his favorite Irish football team, Kerry, but none for himself. Kerry was the home county of his mother Orlaith O’Dowd’s family, with his father, Ciaran, usually rooting for Mayo. Another Sunnyside mother said that Rory was the “sweetest and noble person I have ever met, and had “no malice.”
Many speakers mentioned Rory’s protectiveness and friendship with his younger sister Kathleen and their maternal cousin, Alana; his meeting with President Obama and the first lady; his wish to attend Georgetown University and go into politics; and his desire to become a professional pilot. Rory was said to have idolized John F. Kennedy and Rosa Parks.
Niall O’Dowd, Rory’s uncle and the publisher of the Irish Voice, was visibly shaken by the loss of his nephew, the “son I never had.” He said he had just received a call from the Irish Prime Minister about Rory and that the PM would be attending the upcoming service in Ireland this Sunday. O’Dowd spoke eloquently, concluding, “Some day with a blue sky above and a fair wind behind, and our hearts full, our dreams will come true and we will meet our beautiful boy again.”
Surprising all was the lengthy tribute paid by Rory’s father, Ciaran Staunton, owner of Molly Bloom’s pub in Sunnyside and co-founder of The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (a group seeking green cards for undocumented Irish). Although emotional at times, Staunton praised his son without hyperbole and at the end of his remarks got a close to one-minute standing ovation.
Staunton mentioned Noah Zimmerman, Rory’s close friend, and the inseparable group of 40-to-50 children, a “mini ratpack,“ in Sunnyside Gardens. Staunton spoke of his son’s strong interest in political and his knowledge of world events.
He told one story, to rousing laughter, of the evening when the family television was tuned to “Housewives of New York City,” and Rory burst downstairs to break the news to them that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had passed away.
Staunton spoke about the flying lessons Rory insisted on and his wish to become a pilot. After being refused lessons due to his age, Rory went on the internet found a school on Long Island who would allow him to study and fly with his instructor on his twelfth birthday, and they finally agreed. He landed the plane himself.
Rory’s father spoke of the “scheming and plotting” of Rory and Kathleen and how their parental wishes “meant nothing.” He said after attending a bar mitzvah, Rory was very disappointed that he was not going to have one.
Family friend Deidre Feerick, outside helping the NYPD “Clergy Unit” handle the traffic jam caused by the number of attendees, said she was impressed with Rory. “He didn’t just play in Sunnyside Gardens Park. A year ago or so, he drew up a plan to recycle rain water for the park, with proper documents and engineering thought out.”
Everyone who attended, and the event was open to all, were invited to a sit-down lunch in St. Mary’s Gym next door. Over 800 stayed for sandwiches, fruit salad, cookies, salad, coffee, and soda.
Father Tom, the priest who gave the eulogy, mentioned, “People of all faiths and with no faith are here to show they care,” and praised the family’s remarkable “complete lack of dispute” in the last days.
An immense cluster of white orange and green balloons referencing Ireland were released as the coffin was returned to the hearse. Lynch Funeral Home in Sunnyside is handling the return of Rory Staunton to Ireland, where he will be buried, in the “arms of his grandmother.”
The community knows that the grief will never fully pass away for the close-knit family and friends. But most of the community seem blindsided by the sudden passing of someone part of the daily fabric of their lives, a kind, smart, cheerful boy. They came to pay respects but found solace for themselves. “It brought me to tears,” said Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce staffer Luke Adams, “It was a beautiful service.”