With losses fresh, Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund donors think of others

Last modified: Friday, December 20, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Very often, donations to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund arrive in memory of people whose loved ones miss them deeply. Sometimes the losses are so fresh, sadness permeates the notes they write. The grief is almost audible in conversations with them.

Ten days before the first anniversary of the death of her longtime life partner, Jack Capelas, Northampton resident Linda Schwartz mailed in a contribution in his name.

Schwartz made her first donation to the Gazette-sponsored Toy Fund with a note that read “In loving memory of Jack Capelas who helped so many children and their families.” Capelas died Dec. 21, 2012 at age 50.

That same week, Easthampton resident Elizabeth Gott* sent along a donation with a hand-written note in a Christmas card declaring the contribution “in memory of my sister Peggy Sullivan, who loved all children and gave them much happiness. Peggy died this past summer and we miss her very much.”

In a telephone interview this week, Schwartz said donating to the fund, which helps families provide gifts for their children around the holidays, seemed a fitting way to remember Capelas, who she said found his life calling later in life as a child advocacy lawyer.

“He was really passionate about representing children,” Schwartz said. “He was an advocate for children who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.”

Schwartz, 59, met Capelas nearly two decades ago when he was a customer at Curtis and Schwartz, the popular Main Street restaurant she co-owned and operated.

She said their relationship was a long-distance one while he went off to earn an undergraduate degree at Salem State University, then a law degree at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, and again while he set up a law practice in Concord.

“He was a late bloomer in terms of finding his career path, but once he did, he was a real fighter,” she said. “He helped so many families stay together or get the services they needed.”

Schwartz said after graduating with a law degree, Capelas opened up a solo practice in New Hampshire where he honed expertise working with children in trouble, particularly those facing problems such as abuse, neglect, and truancy, work she said was “his calling.”

Shortly after he was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer in August 2011, she said, he closed up that practice and moved full time to Northampton where he and Schwartz lived together on Dewey Court.

The couple hoped he might beat the odds, but that was not to be. Capelas died in hospice care at home, with Schwartz by his side, a little over a year after receiving the diagnosis.

Schwartz, who teaches at Holyoke Community College, said Capelas was a music devotee, a crossword puzzle aficionado, and a dog lover.

“He turned me into a dog person,” she said. “That was one of his legacies to me.”

A sister’s loss

Gott, who lives on Westview Terrace in Easthampton, said this Christmas will be sad for family members grieving the loss of Peggy Sullivan, who died at the age of 73 in August, after being sick for five years with arthritis and diabetes.

She said Sullivan frequently bestowed compliments along the order of, “You look so pretty today,” or “I love your laugh,” or “You’ve got a nice smile.”

“They were little compliments that took you through the day,” said Gott, who said she visited her sister two or three times a week.

Many of her children and grandchildren were also frequent visitors as well.

“Everybody always wanted to go to her house,” said Gott.

“She was the most fun-loving person,” she said. “I miss her sense of humor. She always had everybody laughing, even her caregivers, they liked her so much. She was funny.”

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Elizabeth Gott’s name.