Every time we find ourselves dealing with another story involving Aimee Willard, we go looking for a picture. And every time I am struck by that smile.
It’s been that way since June 20, 1996. I still remember driving into work that day, coming down the Route 1 Bypass, and wondering what all the commotion was about on the exit ramp from the Blue Route.
I soon found out. When I got into the office I heard the name Aimee Willard for the first time.
I must have heard it about a thousand times in the 11 years since.
And every time I think of that smile.
The gruesome details haven’t changed. Willard was abducted and killed after her attacker bumped her car and got her to stop as was driving down the Blue Route.
Too often the stories this newspaper does on Willard are sad ones. Not so this week.
I hold two news meetings every day, one at 11 a.m. and another at 5 p.m. That’s where we discuss what we’re covering each day. At the 5 we make our final decisions on Page One.
On Wednesday I was all set to lead the Thursday paper with another story when I heard our sports editor make mention of a story they were doing.
I was immediately intrigued.
It was a story involving Aimee Willard. And it was a happy one. Or at least one that is not as sad.
That’s how the photo of Aimee’s mom, Gail, as well as her brother and sister wound up on the front page of Thursday’s newspaper.
They were standing in the new gymnasium at The Academy of Notre Dame de Namur. That’s Aimee’s alma mater, where she starred in basketball and field hockey.
They stood under a banner with Aimee’s name and her number, 4, one that will never be worn by another Notre Dame player.
The facility was officially named the Aimee Willard Gymnasium.
There was another image on that front page as well. We cut in a shot of Aimee, that same smiling countenance that has stayed with me these past 11 years.
I can’t think of a more appropriate honor for Aimee than to have a gymnasium at her alma mater named for her. Athletics were so much of what she was.
Aimee is no longer with us. But her spirit is. It will fill that gym every time they turn on the lights.
The same way her smile does.