Tribute unveiled to MUN student killed while crossing parkway

It's been nearly 40 years since Judy Lynn Ford was struck and killed trying to cross Prince Philip Drive in St. John's.

Now, on the 39th anniversary of her death, a storyboard in her memory has been unveiled at Memorial University's main campus.

"She was great. A really great person. Really outgoing, really kind and always wanted to help everybody. She was never upset over anything," said Rodney Ford, Judy Lynn Ford's father.

"She really loved life. Every year of it. Since she died our lives have been changed, but we still have to carry on."

MUN hosted the memorial event in the University Centre food court early Thursday afternoon

Rodney Ford was present with his wife Ida, Judy's mother, for the unveiling of the plaque.

Protest shut down key road in St. John's

Ford, 20, of Port aux Basques was in her fourth year in the faculty of science when she was killed Oct. 17, 1980, while trying to cross the busy four-lane divided roadway.

Her death sparked student protests and a full-on occupation of the parkway, eventually leading to the construction of two pedways that crossed Prince Philip Drive.

Malone Mullin/CBC

Protesters cleared the busy road only when a commitment was made to fund their construction.

"I actually was there that Friday afternoon within minutes of the tragedy had occurred, and I witnessed the beginning of the protest and the continuation of the protest," said Kent Decker, who is currently vice-president of administration and finance at MUN.

Decker said the protest was truly spontaneous. He joined other students in disrupting traffic as emergency vehicles left the scene and the road had been re-opened.

Students began walking back and forth across the parkway, standing in front of motorists and essentially bringing traffic to a halt.

The protest lasted until the following Wednesday.

"It was initial outrage. It then became more of an uplifting, 'We're going to do something about this.' CHMR blasted songs from loud speakers outside, there were deliveries of pizza [and] coffee by local restaurants," Decker said. 

"People played Frisbee and football on the parkway. It became a huge scene of thousands of people.

Once it became clear that the students were not going to move, police barricaded Prince Philip Drive near the Health Sciences Centre and by the Arts and Culture Centre, to vehicles from getting close to the protest.

Malone Mullin/CBC

Eventually the student body won.

The original pedways have since been demolished, and the overhead crossing point now is in the University Centre, which straddles both sides of the campus. 

Decker told CBC News that he is still worried about students crossing Prince Philip Drive. He said Elizabeth Avenue is no better, but at least there are flashing crosswalk lights.

Now, as the sun sets earlier in the day and peak rush hour traffic encroaches on complete darkness, Decker said it's a very dangerous time of year for pedestrians.

"I just encourage everybody, in the next month or so, be very careful in the nights," he said. 

Ongoing challenges

Liam O'Neill, who sits on the MUN Student Union's parking and transportation solutions committee, said pedestrian safety — specifically on Prince Philip Drive — is a constant topic of conversation during MUNSU meetings.

He said a plan was made a number of years ago to change roadways around the St. John's campus and build additional pedways for students to cross problematic areas safely. 

Katie Breen/CBC

"Right now the big problem with that is that the university doesn't have money. The provincial government hasn't recognized the need to renew the infrastructure," he said. 

"The university is slowly able to make changes to fix the infrastructure, but a lot of the buildings around here are a safety hazard."

O'Neill said the university, to its credit, has tried to address safety problems as they arise, especially on the parkway itself.

He said Judy Lynn Ford's plaque is a reminder to students and to the university for the need to be consciousness about student safety.     

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