The warm, bright sunshine held no indication of the hurricane coming, but it did serve as a perfect setting for the celebration of one's man life that took place Saturday afternoon at St. John's Prep.
Friends, family, school officials and the Eagles' football team unveiled a new memorial dedicated to Peabody firefighter James Rice, who died in the line of duty last December. He was a 1987 graduate of the Prep.
"Twenty-five years ago many of us were classmates with Jimmy Rice and we're all better for it," said classmate and football teammate Steve MacDonald, a Danvers police officer. MacDonald led the effort to organize the tribute to Rice.
The stone memorial sits at the entrance to Brother Linus, CFX Athletic Commons next to the flagpole, where many a student-athlete, parent or fan will have to pass by. Engraved on the marker is "James Rice '87," flanked by an SJP football helmet and a Peabody Fire Department helmet. Above, it reads: "The Lord says there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend."
That passage was read by Peabody Fire Capt. Jay Dowling at Rice's funeral.
Rice's classmates, looking to make their own tribute to their fallen brother, organized Saturday's memorial ceremony and after unveiling the new stone memorial, presented various gifts to his family, wife Amy and three children: Alyssa, Katelyn and Ryan.
Those gifts included Rice's actual football jersey from SJP, game films from his senior year on DVD and memorial reminders on lanyards.
"I can really think of no better place for this dedication and stone to be," said SJP President Ed Hardiman, a sentiment shared by Athletic Director Jim O'Leary and Rice's classmates and former teammates.
Hardiman said athletes will pass by the new fixture daily and as they learn there's more to life than chalking up the x's and o's on a scoreboard, they can also learn how it's about leaving a legacy behind instead and a life of service to others.
Hardiman said the stone is dedicated in spirit to all local firefighters as well -- whenver the call comes, they respond -- but most importantly, the space is there for Rice's family.
He noted he attended the 25th reunion of Rice's classmates recently and they all remembered Rice for his humor, warmth and kindness. "He taught us to live a life of service," Hardiman said.
O'Leary, who has coached football at SJP for many years, said Rice played for him and was a consummate teammate.
"It's not surprising that he went from one brotherhood to another brotherhood," O'Leary said.
He said No. 35 held special significance to him before Rice wore it -- it was also O'Leary's number and one he took special care to assign to a player who was not only a great athete, but a great teammate as well.
O'Leary pointed to current No. 35, Tucker Mathers, as the "kind of guy that we love and respect here."
"Jimmy was that kind of teammate," he said, as Mathers then presented the first of two gifts of their own to Rice's family -- in this case it was Mather's jersey for Ryan Rice.
O'Leary and team members then presented Rice's daughters with a game day ball, which the team signed afterward and hoped to win with -- they did, 28-6 over Catholic Memorial. He also noted that each Eagles' player sported No. 35 on his helmet for the day.
O'Leary led his team in a call-and response ritual they perform before each game -- O'Leary: "Here I am!" Team: "Here we are!" The coach told the Rices then that SJP will always be there for them, whether it's someone that personally knew Rice or not.
"Jimmy deserves this today...because of how he lived his life," said MacDonald, explaining that was a life of service and one in which Rice made a lasting impression.
He said the stone memorial will tell everyone know who passes by of Rice's service and sacrifice.
MacDonald said he and several other classmates started thinking of ways to pay their own personal tribute to Rice after attending a ceremony at Fenway Park this past spring.
He said that when he asked O'Leary for Rice's jersey, they searched through all of 10 boxes before finding Rice's No. 35 near the bottom. As for the game footage, "Katelyn, Alyssa and Ryan can see exactly how good of a football player their father was," said MacDonald.
Associate Headmaster Michael Newhall concluded the ceremony, recalling how his first year at the Prep was 1987 and "Jimmy Rice" was one of the first baseball players Newhall ever coached at the school. And both being "Peabody boys," he took him under his wing, Newhall said, as he continued to do with Peabody students during his coaching career at SJP.
"Jimmy's in our hearts," he said.
Several Danvers firefighters along with Engine 2 and 3 and the town's Fire Rescue truck came out for the ceremony. From Peabody, Lt. Scott Patturelli and Ryan Gill were in full uniform.