By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS — St. John’s Prep prides itself on always remembering its former students. Now, every athlete at the school will walk by the memorial to one of its own, the late Jim Rice.
The new memorial, which sits under the flagpole and is surrounded by flowers, is a fitting tribute to a quiet leader with a great sense of humor.
St. John’s Prep football coach/athletic director Jim O’Leary spoke of the brotherhood that exists at the school at the memorial dedication Saturday afternoon for one of his former players, Rice. The Peabody firefighter died in the line of duty just a couple of days before Christmas last year.
The ceremony took place at the entrance to the Brother Linus Athletic Commons, where a granite stone was unveiled with Jim Rice’s name between an old-style Eagles’ football helmet and a Peabody fire helmet. Two of Rice’s football teammates, Billy Gulla and Mike Zipper (who both grew up in Peabody), unveiled it.
“The Lord says there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” is inscribed on the face of the stone. Those words were said at Rice’s funeral by his longtime friend and fellow firefighter Jay Dowling.
Friends, family, firefighters, Prep headmaster Ed Hardiman, some of Rice’s teammates from the Class of 1986, and current Eagles players were among those gathered in his honor, with three Danvers firetrucks parked close by.
Steve MacDonald, who was the quarterback on the ‘86 Prep team that Rice started at wide receiver and cornerback for, came up with the idea of having the memorial on the grounds of St. John’s Prep and worked hard to see it come to fruition.
MacDonald and O’Leary went through 10 boxes of old Prep game shirts before finally locating in the very last box the one Rice wore. That shirt was presented to his family along with game film so his three children can watch their father during his high school playing days.
“Jim played for me, and it’s not surprising he left one brotherhood and went to another,” O’Leary said. “Jim wore No. 35, my old number in high school. Every year, I try to find somebody special for that number, and he was a cornerback like me. Today, we have 35 on all our helmets.”
One of the surprises of the afternoon came when St. John’s Prep senior Tucker Mathers took his No. 35 game shirt off and presented it to Rice’s son, Ryan. O’Leary said that Mathers, who will play football at Tufts next year, is the kind of guy teammates love and respect — just like Rice was.
Following the ceremony, a luncheon was held in Griffin Hall. Ryan Rice and some members of the ‘86 football team then accompanied the Prep captains to the center of the field for the coin toss before the Eagles’ game with Catholic Memorial in a fitting conclusion to the day.