[Triennial Today] The loss of a friend or loved one can create a void in the heart that is difficult to fill. So it was for Catherine Lillibridge, when she lost her friend Mary Ellen Smith, 56, wife of the Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith, bishop of Southwest Florida, to cancer in March of this year.
Saddened by the loss of her friend, Lillibridge, who is also married to a bishop (the Rt. Rev. Gary R. Lillibridge, bishop of West Texas), wanted to do something to honor Smith’s memory, but wasn’t certain about how she should go about it. Then, Lillibridge learned that about the first ECW Triennial 5K Walk/Run, scheduled for July 8 at 6:30 a.m.
Since both she and Smith were runners and fitness enthusiasts, she decided that she would run in the event to honor her friend. However, after going online to register, Lillibridge was impressed by the beauty of the Indianapolis Canal Walk, where the walk/run is scheduled to take place. It was suddenly clear that she wanted to do something even more special and life affirming to remember Smith.
“Mary Ellen and I would walk together each time we went to a House of Bishops or Sewanee gathering. When I saw a picture of the canal and path in Indianapolis that we will walk/run for the 5K, I knew I would be doing this with Mary Ellen in my heart,” said Lillibridge. “It looked like the kind of place where Mary Ellen and I would have liked to walk together.”
It was then that she decided to pick up the phone and call the event organizers to discuss just how to pay tribute to her friend at the event, she said.
There was an emotional discussion of sponsorship and tribute possibilities. Afterward, it was decided that 5K participants could walk (or run) the event in Mary Ellen Smith’s memory, and that purple armbands bearing Smith’s name (purple being the official representative color of the bishops) would be made available to friends, colleagues, and others walking in her honor.
“I contacted Bishop Smith, to make sure he was comfortable with a tribute to Mary Ellen,” Lillibridge remembers. “He was thrilled! In fact, he asked if he should sign up for the race.”
Of course, Lillibridge’s response was a resounding “Yes!”
With the bishop’s blessing, plans for the tribute fell into place. Lillibridge composed an e-mail to all the bishops, and their spouses, encouraging them to walk in Smith’s memory. She even included a link to the ECW 5K Walk/Run registration site.
For those who sign up for the event through that link, and notify Lillibridge, an armband ready for them to wear during the race. The handcrafted armbands are made of purple cloth—donated by yet another clergy spouse—and fabric glue. Each armband bears the words “In Loving Memory of Mary Ellen Smith.”
Lillibridge anticipates that a number of convention attendees from the bishops’ community will respond to the 5K tribute for Mary Ellen Smith; she also hopes that convention delegates from Southwest Florida will sign up in for the event in support of their bishop, and the memory of his wife of 36 years.
As recently as July 4, Lillibridge’s reported that–although her original plan was to make between 60 to 100 armbands, but the requests for them keeps increasing.
One thing is for certain, Lillibridge looks forward to seeing the flashes of purple among the participants — an homage to her friend’s strength, courage, friendship, and unwavering fortitude.