SALEM — The weatherman was predicting heavy rains today, but that didn’t scare Rita French.
Rain or shine, the 84-year-old crossing guard planned to be at her post in front of Ziggy’s Donuts at the intersection of Essex and Webb streets.
“As long as it doesn’t snow,” she said. “I don’t like the ice.”
Today is Rita’s last day as a school crossing guard, a post she has held for the past 13 years. For most of that time, she was on Jackson Street near Collins Middle School. An accident precipitated the move to Ziggy’s.
“Somebody almost hit me,” she said, describing how a car came right at her before swerving. She fell backwards trying to avoid the collision and broke her wrist.
Rita has a lot of stories to tell, none better than the one about her name. She is Rita to family and close friends, but Mary French on School Department records and legal documents.
“I always thought my name was Rita and then when I went to get married they didn’t have any such person,” she said, standing yesterday in the cold of Collins Cove. A doctor, or the hospital where she was born, must have put the wrong name on the birth certificate, she surmises.
Rita grew up on Charles Street right behind a fire station. Her husband, Donald, a worker at the A.C. Lawrence leather factory, died almost 40 years ago. She worked for many years as a housekeeper at Salem Hospital.
Rita has loved her years as a crossing guard, helping children stay safe and making friends with little ones. The other day an older girl approached her at Market Basket and said she remembered Rita as the crossing guard who waved at all the children as they drove past in cars.