A Letter about Rory Staunton from the Special Olympics

Rory Staunton was a champion. Embodied is his very being was an innate moral compass that compelled him to champion the rights of those less privileged financially, physically, mentally and emotionally. At the age of 9-1/2, Rory was vigilant in his efforts to bring a popular program of Special Olympics New York entitled “Spread the Word to End the Word” to his school and community. The R-word is the word ‘retard(ed)’. The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory. The campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions.

Convincing a school administration that the rights of the mentally challenged were paramount and understand that the label of the “R” word extended far beyond the mentally challenged community was only one of the many miracles Rory manifested in his short life. Rory knew that every person gives us something – that we learn from those who “know” less than us. After a highly successful campaign that to this day is celebrated at his school and in his community, Rory took the next step and volunteered at Special Olympics New York’s local competitions with his fellow classmates. Children and their parents listened to Rory because his mind was incredibly keen and his heart pure – plus his smile was one from which no one could turn away. As an award winning Daniel Webster Debate Team leader, it wasn’t easy to do anything but listen to Rory. And, for each of us who listened, our lives were and remain enriched.

Special Olympics New York was lucky to have Rory as a friend. He left a mark on all of us who knew him.

Judy A. Dorn
Regional Director
Special Olympics New York

By Kevin Burgoyne, 6th Grade Teacher and Debate Coach

It seems impossible to sum up a whole man’s life in a few words, thus it might seem reasonable to think that summing up a young man’s life in a few words is a more possible task; however, this is not the case when discussing a young man like Rory Staunton. A summation on a piece of paper is not an option when it comes to him, so what I will say is a mere attempt at capturing a glimpse of a young man with an unforgettable smile, an insatiable passion for life, and a great heart—all of which will be deeply missed by the Garden School community.

I found it fitting that Rory recited the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost at this year’s Poetry Recitation because, during the years that I knew him, that was the road he was always traveling while inspiring and touching those around him.

When Rory was a student in my class, he was already on his unique path, for when I once asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up, most students gave answers that I do not remember now. Rory, however, looked me in the eyes, spoke to me as if I were a student in his class, and told me that he will become a pilot, and he said this with such conviction, citing inspiring news broadcasts and mentioning how he would go home and practice his flight simulator. That was when I knew that a special boy was in front of me, and I was pleased when he came to me later and told me that he had taken his first flight.

It was this passionate and precocious nature of his that set him apart from other students and further guided him down his unparalleled journey. Not only was he a boy who saw that standing up for what is right is always the answer, but he was also able to consider all things during trying circumstances. I have seen Rory through difficult and challenging experiences, and while I would give him words of encouragement at such times, he would either find a way to correct his own behavior, a way to fix the situation, a way to achieve a goal, or a way to help another person. For a seventh grade student to have the capacity to evaluate himself, an incident, and an obstacle, and still consider how he treated others was the essence of Rory. This was the foundation for his road, the road I have NEVER seen another twelve-year-old travel.

Such a holistic perspective of the world allowed Rory to shine as a humanitarian as well, participating in fundraisers, student council, and often donating his own time to help in other ways. In addition, he was a politically-driven young man in our school community who blossomed from a sometimes reticent boy into a ubiquitous person and an indelible debater who would not allow another student, or judge, to forget him. Because of Rory, I myself felt unfit to be a debate coach at times. I was able to survive, barely, our day-to-day in-class squabbles behind the curtain of: “It’s time to move on class.” In debate, however, there was no such curtain. He challenged the students to be better people and to strive for more, and he challenged me as a teacher to become a more worldly person, for two reasons: so one day I might also have a panoramic view of the world the way he did and so I was better prepared to have an argument with the most profound twelve-year-old I had ever met.

Forgive me if I have left anything out, but not even the greatest artist could paint a complete portrait of Rory Staunton. I would like to end with an assertion on which Rory, Mr. Kruczek, the other debaters, and I would NOT disagree: It is morally acceptable to CELEBRATE a young man’s untimely passing. My reason for this assertion is: Every now and then, a young man comes along, and in such a short amount of time he changes the world around him, which is a call for a celebration. My evidence for this assertion and reason is: Rory Staunton.

God bless you, Rory, and my guess as to why he took you from us so soon is that the world is too dull and boring for such a bright and exciting young man as you.

By Donal O’ Dowd, Co. Cork. Ireland 

A light went out for all of us when Rory Staunton my 12 year old nephew died suddenly in New York last weekend. Rory had been playing basketball when he suffered an apparently innocuous grazing after a fall on the indoor court. Four days later Rory was shockingly, tragically dead after being taken to hospital with a rare and deadly infection called Toxic Shock Syndrome that ultimately caused multiple organ failure and his death.

Rory was one of lifes treasures, a big gentle boy, full of life and hope and with that precious innocence that all too briefly inhabits the lives of the very young. He had an enormous intellectual curiosity, informing himself about train engines and space rockets, computers and politics . The situation in North Korea was his latest fascination. He never tired of asking questions in his relentless search for knowledge and he listened quietly to us grown ups even when we were patently talking rubbish and were blustering to cover up our ignorance. You sensed in the playful look in his eyes that he sometimes knew a lot more than we did but he was far too polite to interrupt.

I remember when I first saw him as a bare toddler in the family apartment in New York. He watched me closely when I entered the room. I was a strange face to him then but when I smiled he immediately smiled back and bounced around in his mothers lap. He fixed his gaze on me for a while after that and every time I looked back at him he rewarded me with another bounce and a flapping of his tiny legs.

A year later he was crawling around the floor and getting himself extricated in all sorts of situations. He had just a few words then and ‘stuck’ was one of his favorites that he would use when he had trapped himself in some corner or other of the room and needed some help. He would amuse me endlessly away from the protective gaze of his mother, by dive-bombing head first from the sofa to the floor, just for the fun of it.

He was a darling boy of his grandmother or ‘Nana’. Forever exploring and experimenting, one of my memories of Rory is of him rambling riotously in the kitchen in the family home in Ireland busily emptying the contents of the cupboards under the sink while a smiling Nana watched on passively.

In this crawling infancy, he figured out how to use the redial button on the phone at home and we all had to get used to receiving calls where the only communication was a ‘gug’ or two from the other end.

We got used to seeing Rory and sister Kathleen with his parents every Summer, in Bettystown, Drogheda, Kerry or Mayo. It was an annual occasion and as we observed how Rory blossomed and grew into a fine healthy young boy, it was a yearly reminder too of how quickly time moves on for all of us and leaves us clutching at memories.

Rory and family came to stay with us once in Cork. It was memorable visit and it was one of those rare golden weeks in Ireland when the sun shone endlessly and the fertile green land radiated with all the fresh scents and sounds of an Irish Summer in bloom. Rory charmed everyone he met and within a few hours he had made everlasting friendship friends with young Sean across the road and they were playing football with the other boys on the street. Forever curious, he wanted to know exactly where Cork was situated in the world. ‘Cork is on the edge’ he declared after looking at a map of Ireland.

We went to Clonakilty and visited the model railway village. Rory was in his element, running excitedly back and forth with Kathleen , tracing the path of the tiny trains and marveling at the colorful recreation of the old West Cork railway line. Later we all went walking on Inchydoney beach and wet our feet in the sea as the majestic waves rolled in from the Atlantic Ocean.’ It’s the first time we swimmed in the ocean ‘ shouted Kathleen memorably to her brother.

Rory vowed to return to Cork and said he was going to pitch a tent in our back garden. Alas it was not to be. He also told me that he wanted to visit France where I worked and see the Eiffel Tower and travel on the TGV Trains. He could embarrass me with his questions such as how fast the TGV could travel. Of course he knew all the answers himself but he didn’t say so.

The shock and speed of his taking will be extremely hard for Orlaith, Ciaran and young Kathleen. We are all of us diminished by his demise. One minute there is the young boy, like a bourgeoning teddy bear with a shy friendly grin and a quiet inoffensive personality, then there is just the memory .One naturally seeks for explanations but there are not any. It’s as if young Rory was lent to us in this world for just a short while and has gone to an everlasting home with his beloved nanna.

There are thousands and thousands of other little Rorys in this world. They are a constant reminder of the beauty and innocence of youth and how they are needed to counteract the relentless cynicism and brutality of the grown-up world. To paraphrase the words of the song ‘Rory This world will always need someone as beautiful as you’

Codladh sámh duit Rory, mo bhuachail og.

Remembering Rory Staunton
Roger Hitts – Sunnyside Gardens Park

As parents, we fret about our children’s future, pinning our own hopes and dreams on their future happiness and success while we endeavor to leave them a better world. But at the same time, Sunnyside Gardens Park feels like a refuge from the tumult, where our offspring play in a safe environment without a care of what comes tomorrow – to borrow a commercial phrase, the park is truly where a kid can be a kid.

Seeing our own children’s happy faces as they dig in the sand or kick a ball while making new friends has always been a happiest time for me, and, as some of our children grow older it’s almost as gratifying to see the younger children discover the little world of the park as much as we enjoy watching our own children play.

It was never hard to pick Rory Staunton out of the park crowd – he of lanky frame, red hair and proud Irish good looks. While a child at his core, Rory stood apart by his kindness, politeness and an astounding maturity that allowed him to talk as easily to parents or park staff as young people his own age.

As most of us know by now, young Rory died April 1 at age 12, after a sad accident that led to a short illness and ultimately, his passing. Our hearts break for his family; dad Ciaran, mom Orlaith and little sister Kathleen. The Staunton family, of course, have meant so much to the park for so long – park members may or may not know of Ciaran’s fierce fundraising determination that has led to most meaningful dollars brought into the park having been touched by his efforts.

Of course, with fundraising comes an inherent feistiness. I still laugh in thinking what one park member once told me, “Ciaran can be a bull in a china shop”, but Orlaith must be his secret weapon since Rory and Kathleen are two of the sweetest, nicest kids in the park. And I smile thinking about Orlaith, always game, shooting hoops with Rory and Kathleen in the park. All told, I don’t think any parents could be prouder of the young man their son was becoming than Ciaran and Orlaith.

In his 12 years, Rory packed in a lot of living. A natural leader at his Garden School in Jackson Heights, he eyed a career in politics. Just last March he had the opportunity to visit President Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House. But you wouldn’t catch him acting the big shot; with his innate sense of grace and kindness, it was possible to look at a child and, as an adult, say, “I could be more like him.”

We all extend our sympathy to the Stauntons at the loss of their wonderful son and the emotional upheaval the whole extended family has experienced. As a tight-knit park community, we grieve right alongside them. And if it’s any to the better, we might hug our own children a little tighter when we put them to bed tonight.

Teresa Uthurralt

I had the privilege of judging Rory Staunton at a debate tournament hosted at the Hunter College Campus Schools last fall. In my two years of judging middle school debate for the Metropolitan Debate League I had never heard a middle school student debate as eloquently as Rory. His arguments were creative, analytical and supported by research– a rarity for middle schoolers. He displayed passion and conviction but yet was gracious to his opponents. I was so impressed that I awarded him the highest speaker points I have ever given to any child that I have judged at a tournament. According to the rules of the Metropolitan Debate League, if a judge wishes to award the highest possible points to a speaker, they must defend their decision with the tournament director and request a special dispensation. It was my pleasure to do so for Rory. ….I cannot imagine the loss that Rory’s parents are experiencing–no parent should ever have to bury their child. But it is also our loss. Rory Staunton was a young man who would have made great contributions to our society. He would have made the world a better place.

Joan, Victor, Lily and Adrian

I keep close to my heart the August day at Rockaway Beach last summer as my family joined yours and Sheila’s for a last chance to bring in the waves. We decided to invite Adrian’s first cousin from New Jersey and as we laid out our towel next to the Sunnyside gang, I felt Junior (Adrian’s cousin) sense of shyness overwhelm him. I couldn’t help but notice the difference visually with the blonde blue eyed and red heads abound. Junior shrunk back and became only interested in digging in the sand. I called for Junior to join Ciara, Colm, Rory, Kathleen, Liam and Adrian by the shore. As they slowly progressed down to the waters edge Rory stepped up and introduced himself to Junior asking his name and offering his board if Junior would like to give it a whirl. I happened to have an extra one so I ran and got it but before you knew it, Junior was thick as thieves with the rest of them bringing in wave after wave. I was so touched by Rory’s sensitivity and kindness, taking notice of Junior’s awkwardness and in my mind I kept repeating “What an absolute gentleman”. His gesture was so perceptive, kind and natural. I am so fortunate to have been touched by Rory, I will never forget it.

Sarah Heinemann

I first met Rory when he was in second grade as his reading teacher. We analyzed Charlotte’s Web together and I’ve loved him ever since. He was special and always stuck out to me. As a teacher, we always tend to secretly favor the children who are not only intelligent but whom also have such a strong desire to learn. After that, I often saw Rory when he would come pick up Kathleen when she was in my second grade class and in those more brief exchanges I was able to get a glimpse of the wonderful young man he was becoming.

I was lucky again to have time with Rory when I was his homeroom teacher in fifth grade, I would have time with him in the morning and late afternoons. Rory was always interested in his civic duties. He wanted to work on petitions to improve the school’s environment and he was always interested in answering the word challenges I had put up on the board. And when he wasn’t doing that he was discussing news he had seen on CNN. Unlike most children his age, Rory was not afraid to engage adults, nor was he ever afraid to challenge them. Rory knew he had a wonderful family. That was always clear to me. He was proud of his Irish heritage and proud to have such intelligent and interesting parents who believed in having a close family and giving back to the community. It is no wonder that Rory ended up looking up to John F. Kennedy since Rory came from such a similar background.

Rory will always have a special place in my heart, I cherish the memories I have with him. He is the kind of child and student teachers only dream of.

By Richard Marotta, Headmaster

This has been the saddest week in our school’s history. As a school, we dwell in possibility, of potential, of the future—all of the most beautiful aspects of human life. Our everyday life is about growth, development and promise. When something good happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. When something terrible happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

Something terrible did happen. There are no words to express the experience that Orlaith, Ciaran and Kathleen Staunton have undergone. All we can say to them is that they are in our thoughts every minute of the day, and we are and will be here for them.

Our community has come together to share thoughts and memories about Rory, about experiences we had with him, about who he was and what he planned on doing as his life unfolded. Our students celebrated Rory’s life as a group. Students arranged a slide show depicting Rory’s life at school; other students spoke about their memories of him; some teachers talked about what a remarkable young man he had become.

Rory, a seventh grader, had traveled through each grade with enthusiasm and promise.

It is truly serendipitous that this year marked the return with Rory’s help of debate to Garden School after decades-long hiatus; it returned at a time when Rory could take it by storm. His skills as a researcher and orator, as a leader and advocate, were remarkable. He received trophies for his work, but none more valuable to him than the experience he shared with his teammates and competitors.

Rory was vital and vibrant, seemingly too full of life to be gone from it. His voice, so clear and bold, will echo in these halls and in our lives.

We cannot replace Rory; we need to learn from how he lived his life—with decency, courtesy, justice and enthusiasm—that these are the values that flourished in this remarkable and beautiful young man, Rory Staunton. He will be deeply missed and always remembered.

Metropolitan Debate League

It is our sad duty to inform the Metropolitan Debate community that Rory Staunton, a seventh grade debater at the Garden School, passed away on April 1, 2012. The loss was unexpected and sudden, and the Metropolitan Debate League greatly mourns the passing of such a promising student.

Rory and the Garden School joined the league this fall, and Rory led his teammates to admirable victories during his tenure with us. He showed great aptitude for debate, receiving awards even as a new speaker from a new team. According to his coach, he found the community of the MDL to be a great one where he felt he fit in well. It is a testament to all our coaches, students, and volunteers that in so short a period of time Rory felt both welcomed and integral to our organization’s endeavors. We offer our gratitude to the Garden School for sharing this remarkable young man with us and for their insistence in hosting our April 21 tournament despite their tragic loss. First and foremost, however, we offer our deepest sympathy to Rory’s family and friends. We know Rory will be sorely missed, by us and many others.