By Phil Corso
Rory Staunton fought hard for his Jackson Heights community throughout his 12 short years before his untimely death from sepsis shock last year. His community fought just as hard to make sure his name would be never be forgotten.
Political and community leaders used a clear, sunny Monday morning to their advantage this week to unveil a new plaque dedicating a sports field next to Travers Park recently acquired by the city in Rory’s name. It was a long-awaited project that dated back to when the civic-minded 12-year-old was still alive, with hopes of bringing more open space to the western Queens neighborhood.
“This is a special day for us because we see Rory’s dream come true,” said Ciaran Staunton, Rory’s father, before receiving a standing ovation at the dedication ceremony. “Rory was keenly aware of his civic responsibility. The path to acquire this park was not easy.”
Rory became seriously ill in March 2012 when he fell in the school gym, cutting his arm while playing basketball, his father said in an interview earlier this year. His family said it was as a result of his cut that Rory developed sepsis, a medical condition in which an infection causes a reaction in the immune system that leads to full-body inflammation. Rory died in April 2012.
Those who spoke in his honor remembered the Jackson Heights 12-year-old as a responsible and ambitious boy with high hopes for the future. Aside from his aspirations to increase open space in Jackson Heights, he also stood up for children who were being bullied in school and helped present a plan to remediate flooding at nearby Sunnyside Gardens.
The Garden School in Jackson Heights agreed to sell the field between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue to the city, which was slated to complement another open space next door at Travers Park. An all-star lineup of city officials came together to celebrate the expansion, which required $6 million in funding, $4 million of which came from City Councilman Dan Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
Dromm said Rory and his family helped lead the community opposition to a proposal that included building high-rises at the property.
“If it weren’t for Ciaran and his family’s dedication, this might not have happened,” Dromm said. “Rory was a pleasure and a really good kid.”
Borough President Helen Marshall said it was difficult for her to even speak at the Monday morning dedication ceremony because of how close to home the tragedy was for her, a mother of two.
“This young man was an outstanding little person and I’m so sorry this ever happened,” she said. “To name this park after him gives us a living, working memorial of him, a boy who was taken from us too soon.”
Rory Staunton Field and Travers Park will soon undergo a $3.7 million renovation with help from Dromm’s and Marshall’s offices, Parks said.
After Rory’s sign was unveiled, a lineup of his former classmates and friends solemnly approached the park with flowers of different colors, fastening each one in between the chain fence’s links.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.