March 2, 2021 By Christina Santucci
Middle Village resident Brian Walter lost his 80-year-old father to COVID-19 in May, but his family was not able to properly mourn.
“We had a funeral with no attendance, no wake, no services,” he said.
So, Walter has sought to honor his dad, John, in another way. He has teamed up with several relatives of other victims to organize Queens Covid Remembrance Day this spring.
The event, which will pay tribute to those who died of COVID-19, is scheduled for May 1 at the Forest Park Bandshell.
The memorial is being organized by 12 people–many of whom lost parents to the virus. One man who will be participating will be doing so in memory of his son.
“They are looking for some sort of day where their…[family member] can be recognized,” Walter said.
The group plans to mark the solemn occasion by placing portraits of COVID-19 victims from Queens on 400 otherwise empty benches — and adorning the bandshell with yellow hearts inscribed with names of victims from outside of the borough.
So far, organizers have received submissions that honor 120 victims from Queens and 300 people who perished who lived outside the borough.
Sketched portraits of those who died are being drawn by the 16-year-old artist behind Faces of Covid Victims. Meanwhile, Kristina Libby from The Floral Heart Project will create an original art piece for the day. Organizers also hope to set up a reflection area at the site to honor essential workers.
Walter said a short service and interfaith prayer is planned with remarks from elected officials and Queens residents who lost loved ones to COVID-19.
The group is still waiting to hear back about its permit request for the event, which would limit how many people could attend. The memorial will also be live-streamed for those unable to attend in person.
“It’s going to be an important event to try to find some sort of closure for all we have been through,” Walter said.
Walter’s father fell ill with COVID-19 in mid-April and died nearly three weeks later on May 10. Around the same time, Walter was himself experiencing coronavirus symptoms, and his mother, Peg, tested positive for the virus, but luckily did not get sick.
Peg has since been helping Walter with plans for the remembrance event. “She has been my rock through all of this,” Walter said of his mother.
When asked to describe his father, Walter spoke about John’s zeal for life and helping others. “He had an infectious personality. He loved to laugh, he loved to make other people laugh,” Walter said.
A lifelong resident of Middle Village, John had been honored by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo on his 80th birthday for living in the same zip code his entire life. “His great adventure was moving from one side of Metropolitan Avenue to the other,” Walter joked.
A historian and author by profession, John became a loyal New York Mets fan after the Dodgers left town. He rooted for the Amazins’ “no matter how bad the season was,” his son joked.
John was married to Peg for 57 years and had four children and two grandchildren. “He loved his family,” Walter said, explaining that his father worked with him every year to help organize a fundraiser for Autism Speaks.
“I definitely got my sense of helping others and doing things for others from him,” Walter said. He added that if his father were alive today John would be helping with the Queens Covid Remembrance Day plans.
Those interested in submitting their loved ones to be honored during the event can do so at the Queens Covid Remembrance Day’s website. The site is also available in Spanish.