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Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope

Berkshires victims of drunken drivers remembered at annual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope

PITTSFIELD — This is a tough time a year for the Cooney family of Adams.

For 15 years, Lisa Cooney has been missing at the Thanksgiving table and absent from all Christmas celebrations.

On Nov. 25, 2006, Cooney was killed by a drunken driver, a date this year that fell on Thanksgiving Day.

The years gone by haven’t eased the pain for the husband, Robert Cooney.

“It’s hard. I take things one day at a time,” said the widower, himself recovering from a serious car crash.

Cooney’s wife was one of the 53 Berkshire County residents honored during the annual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope held Sunday afternoon at the First United Methodist Church.

Last year’s vigil was virtual, due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a pre-recorded video showing two state troopers lighting the candles instead of family members of the victims.

The Cooney’s daughter, Trista Labonte, and her daughter, 8-year-old Evelyn, lit a candle in memory of their mother/grandmother.

Labonte said she was “devastated” the vigil was virtual in 2020.

“We look forward to this every year. We look forward to keeping my mother’s memory alive,” she said.

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington weighed in on the importance of an in-person vigil.

“Nothing can replace being here together,” she said. “The community needs to hear your voices and stories.”

The vigil — organized by the DA’s Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, and in conjunction with the Massachusetts State Police — began in 1988 to call attention to the deadly consequences of drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel.

Friends and/or relatives of the deceased in attendance approach the array of candles in front of the church altar, lighting them in silence. If no one came forward, state troopers on hand did the honors. On Sunday, trooper Lt. Stephen Jones lit candles if no one came forward, while photos of the victims were shown on a video.

The final candle was lit on behalf of Joyce Wrend, a co-founder of the Berkshire County chapter of MADD. The North Adams woman is the mother of 18-year-old Allison Wrend, killed in 1990 while a passenger in a car driven by someone who was intoxicated.

The vigil included musical accompaniment by Williams College pianist John Sauer, who concluded the ceremony with “Silent Night.”

Two members of the DA’s Youth Advisory Board paid tribute to the victims through poetry.

Board chairman Ben Heim’s reading from Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do” speaks to everyday life without a loved one.

“But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of a corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep for my own blowing hair, chapped face and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless: I am living. I remember you,” Heim recited, reading the closing lines.

Board member and Pittsfield High School freshman Aiden Hyatt quoted the short poem “There Is No Night Without A Dawning” by Helen Steiner Rice.

“There is no night without a dawning

No winter without a spring

And beyond the dark horizon

Our hearts will once more sing.

For those who leave us for a while

Have only gone away

Out of a restless, care-worn world

Into a brighter day.”

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.

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