Hundreds of alumni, Bridgewater College community members and area residents gathered together for the Feb. 12 Remembrance and Connections event on the Memorial Hall lawn. For many, it was their first time returning to campus after the tragic events and loss of life of two beloved BC family members.
“Welcome back and welcome home,” Bridgewater College Chaplain the Rev. Dr. Robbie Miller ’79 told the crowd.
He referenced the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible and its message in chapter 4 that two are better than one. He emphasized that we are stronger together than alone.
“The outpouring of support of our community, our alumni and the town of Bridgewater has truly helped us and given us strength since that terrible day,” Miller said. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken, and the response to this tragedy reminds us that BC is a cord of a thousand strands, interwoven with memories, connected by generations and bound together with love.”
Bridgewater College President David Bushman told those who had gathered they were all part of the Bridgewater family. He remarked that the most powerful words spoken that day would come not from the podium but from the words of comfort and healing that were shared with one another.
“Our College’s greatest strength—its most distinctive feature on display here today—is the closeness and connection that we feel for each other,” President Bushman said. “An important part of healing is doing exactly what we’re doing here today: being together, supporting each other, offering each other a visible sign that we are not alone and reminding ourselves that the sacrifice John and J.J. made for us will not be forgotten. Their lives and sacrifice are now as tightly woven into the story of the College, as intimate a part of the College’s identity as anything could be. Their memories will live in each of us.”
Bridgewater senior Renee Polome shared memories of the officers and spoke about how they helped her make the return to campus after an injury. She loved talking and joking with them, including eating lunch with the officers in the Kline Campus Center and spending time with them while they worked at tailgates.
“I think it’s really important to know they are heroes, but they were friends to a lot of us,” she said. “They felt like family.”
Bridgewater College Alumni Association President Bradley Hallock ’86 thanked the crowd for their support on behalf of the alumni association. He acknowledged alumni who reached out to those directly affected by the tragedy by sending messages of encouragement and support, as well as those who contributed to the John Painter and Vashon “J.J.” Jefferson Memorial Student Support Fund.
“The outpouring of support following this tragedy has been greatly appreciated, but it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “It only affirms that our community is made up of exactly the type of people I already knew we were.”
Bridgewater Mayor Ted Flory ’70 spoke of the tightknit community made of up the College, town of Bridgewater and local businesses, who were all grieving together.
“I believe Officers Painter and Jefferson would want us to honor their sacrifice by continuing to be the open and caring community in which they chose to work and serve,” he said. “Let us continue to stand together, work together, pray together, play together, live together, care together.”