Rodney and Ida Ford hadn’t been at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus in almost four decades, but on Thursday, as they overlooked the spot where their daughter, their first-born child, was killed, it was clear the memories and pain are still fresh.
“It’s really hard to talk about it,” Ida said, her voice quivering as she wiped away tears. “Every year on this day, it’s especially hard.”
On the afternoon of Oct. 17, 1980, Judy Lynn Ford, a 20-year-old biology major, was crossing Prince Philip Parkway on her way to class from Squires House in Paton College residence when she was struck and killed by a dump truck.
“It’s been 39 years and it’s always a very sad day — one we’ll never forget,” said Rodney, adding that he didn’t have words strong enough to describe how wonderful their daughter was.
“But we’re very grateful to the university for what they’ve done here and what they’re doing here today.”
Rodney, 88, and Ida, 74, made the trip to St. John’s from Port aux Basques, joining their daughters, Linda Spencer and Rhonda Whitten, for a ceremony at the University Centre food court to unveil a storyboard in Judy Lynn’s memory.
“It’s been 39 years and it’s always a very sad day — one we’ll never forget." — Rodney Ford
The storyboard — which is hung at the pedway entrance to the Chemistry-Physics Building — depicts the events of that time, including the accident and the resulting student movement — the likes of which the university had never seen and which became an important moment in its history.
More than 2,000 students swarmed the parkway, blocking traffic, to demand changes for safer pedestrian access on campus. The nearly week-long occupation of the parkway ultimately resulted in an agreement being reached between the provincial government, the City of St. John’s and the university to fund and construct two pedways spanning the road.
The two pedways have since been replaced by the main food court pedway crossing the parkway, along with a system of others connecting buildings. A fence separating the four-lane traffic was later added, while the underground tunnels have been made brighter and more accessible.
“It’s great how the students stood up and supported us,” Rodney said. “At least it will prevent some other family from going through what we went through.”
Donna Hardy Cox was a member of MUN’s student union that led the student protest after Ford’s death.
“Some of us described the parkway like a bowling alley,” said Hardy Cox, adding that the union had regularly discussed parkway safety.
Hardy Cox — who was the first female Memorial social work graduate to be named dean of the school — said Ford’s tragic death affected her and various parts of her career. She said Ford’s death continues to inspire her, as she uses it for teaching purposes to illustrate community action, student advocacy and the importance of designing a safe and student-friendly space on campus.
Donna Hardy Cox of MUN’s school of social work was a member of the student union on Oct. 17, 1980, when Judy Lynn Ford was struck and killed on the parkway. Her death triggered a massive students protest that ultimately resulted in an agreement to construct pedways. pic.twitter.com/YX4oUHm3h2— Rosie Mullaley (@TelyRosie) October 17, 2019
“I’ve seen Memorial’s culture of safety evolve to where it is today and I’m very proud of what has been accomplished, and much of this had to be accomplished with fewer and fewer resources,” said Hardy Cox, who, in her new role as associate vice-president (academic) students, plans to address future safety issues as they arise.
“There’s still more for us to do. This story, this legacy, is about the power of coming together to shape the community we want to live in.”
Kent Decker, vice-president (administration and finance), who hosted Thursday’s event, was a second-year student at the time of the tragedy and joined the protest.
“The university community made it clear that safety must come before cost,” Decker said.
“Today, we continue to focus efforts on continually improving pedestrian safety around Memorial’s campuses. We endeavour to address hazards before they become incidents and we continue this commitment to a safe campus.”
Liam O’Neill of MUN’s student union said, “May the name Judy Lynn Ford and this dedication to her memory always be a reminder that it takes proactive action to prevent tragedy and safety must always be of the highest priority for those making decisions.”