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Editorial: A father-daughter bond that ended far too soon



Thursday, September 04, 2014
Wednesday morning at 10, people who loved Edward Daniel McGrath Jr. and his daughter, Brittany Danielle McGrath, gather in Northampton to attempt what must seem impossible: Accept that this doting dad and loving child, joined for a late-summer motorcycle ride and both in love with partners who appreciated their unique ways, died because a driver addled by heroin allegedly nodded off and crossed the center line.

The dismal story of what brought that driver, James Walter Ainsworth, and his companion, Christina Rose Dunlap, to a stretch of Route 5 in Easthampton will in time be detailed in Hampshire Superior Court.

That is where Ainsworth will face two counts of felony motor vehicle homicide under the influence of drugs, as well as operating to endanger, possession of heroin and driving with a suspended license.

Police say Ainsworth climbed into a potentially lethal weapon, an SUV, and allowed it to collide with innocent people.

According to an Easthampton police report, witnesses at the scene said Ainsworth climbed out of the SUV and looked passively at the wrecked motorcycle. He lit a cigarette. A witness reported seeing Ainsworth slumped minutes before against the driver’s side window, apparently asleep. He was heard to say at the scene, “The curb woke me up.”

That chilling comment reminds us that our roads are only as safe as we make them — together.

Other cars swerved to get out of Ainsworth’s way. The McGraths were hit. What happened to them could have happened to anyone. And so the McGraths’ deaths should matter to everyone. It was they who paid for what appears to be a stranger’s utter disregard for others.

And so Wednesday morning, Edward McGrath’s longtime partner, Suzanne Farrington, and Brittany’s soul mate, Juan Reinoso, and her younger sister Chelsea must comfort each other and help a grieving community find words for this calamity.

They began to do that over the weekend by shaping the obituaries that appeared in Monday’s Gazette. There were the facts — birth dates, schooling, work, family. He was 62; she was 29. Even these short accounts of their lives reveal their profound connection.

Ed and Brittany liked to ride together, her obituary said. It was part of their bond. She was about to take a job with a British law firm, having just graduated magna cum laude from Brooklyn Law School, following years in New York City studying at Fordham University. Their Thursday afternoon ride north toward Northampton was surely a joyous reunion.

If the search for justice is a kind of bug, it bit Brittany when she served on a mock trial team at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School. “Her gift for logic and persuasive discourse was evident” early on, her obituary noted, “as she argued with her parents when the rules in her life didn’t make sense.”

When it came to unraveling life’s mysteries, her dad was a worthy partner.

Those who knew him from his work at Auto Zone in Northampton recall his wit and his willingness to go wherever a conversation took him. He’d earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and taught economics over the years at colleges.

But that training couldn’t shoehorn him into something predictable. His Harvard thesis was titled “The Astrological Reason Behind the Great Depression.” He loved black T-shirts and performed in garage bands. He knew things.

As a teacher, his obituary said, he guided students through complicated topics with humor and anecdotes. Some saw him as a little gruff. Family knew how gentle he was inside.

Surely nothing brought out his tenderness more than spending time with his daughters. Watching Brittany excel in law school must have pleased him; he might have been even more taken with how she held on to her conscience, her sense of altruism, through three years of legal training.

Brittany’s obituary said she was devoted to furthering children’s rights and animal rights. She and Reinoso, despite living in the city, kept four dogs and three cats. Her dad was a kind of big teddy bear, anyway.

So much lay ahead for Brittany Danielle McGrath and for Edward Daniel McGrath Jr. Two remarkable people whose lives ended senselessly and too soon on a local road.