Accident victims recalled: Edward McGrath, gregarious family man; daughter Brittany, PVPA and law school graduate

Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2014

EASTHAMPTON — Friends of a father and daughter who were killed in an accident Thursday described Edward D. McGrath as a gregarious family man and his daughter, Brittany D. McGrath, as a strong, intelligent woman who was pursuing a career in law.

“It’s just very, very heartbreaking,” said Daniel Kurpaska, a former co-worker of Edward McGrath’s. “There’s nothing we can do to bring them back.”

The two were killed on Route 5 near East Street in Easthampton at 3:10 p.m. when the motorcycle they were riding was struck by an SUV that veered into their lane. The driver of the SUV, James W. Ainsworth, 45, is being held on $100,000 bail after pleading not guilty to multiple charges including two counts of felony motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of drugs. Police allege that he nodded off while driving high on heroin.

Edward McGrath, 62, was a native of Worcester who lived in Holyoke, Kurpaska said. He worked as an adjunct professor of economics at Holyoke Community College and as a parts manager at an Auto Zone store in West Springfield, but he worked for many years as the parts manager of the Auto Zone at 242 King St. in Northampton before transferring to the West Springfield store earlier this year, Kurpaska said.

Brittany McGrath, 29, the oldest of McGrath’s two daughters, graduated from the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in 2004 and then moved to New York City, where she has been living for the past 10 years, according to a former teacher. According to her LinkedIn profile, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. After several law internships, she was living in Brooklyn and working as a research assistant to a professor at DePaul University College of Law.

The Gazette could not identify Brittany’s mother, who was no longer married to Edward McGrath.

At the Northampton Auto Zone store Friday, Jared Ronald, its commercial manager, said employees there had learned of the accident that morning in a call from Edward McGrath’s girlfriend, whose name he did not know.

Ronald, of Chicopee, said McGrath had been excited in recent weeks because his two daughters, Brittany and Chelsea, were coming to visit this week.

“He’s somebody you never forget,” Ronald said. “He was a family man. He was always talking about his daughters.”

Both Ronald and Kurpaska, a former employee of the Northampton store, described Edward McGrath as a talkative man with a wealth of knowledge and a willingness to share it.

“There was never a silent moment with him around,” Ronald said. “He was friendly, outgoing, he’d talk to anyone. He was everybody’s best friend. He had a lot of stories.”

Kurpaska said that McGrath enjoyed economics and held a degree in the subject from Harvard University. “You wanted to know anything about economics, he could tell you about it,” said Kurpaska, of Sunderland.

Ronald said his students frequently came to visit him at the store. As to how Edward McGrath came to have two careers in such different fields, Ronald said, “I think he just liked helping people, and he knew about everything.”

Kurpaska agreed, adding that Edward McGrath’s “gruff voice” belied his friendly personality. “I think that’s why he worked there — he was able to start a conversation with anyone,” Kurpaska said.

He chuckled as he recalled Edward McGrath’s dry sense of humor, adding that he sometimes suggested customers burn incense and “pray to the car gods” for answers to their car troubles.

Brittany McGrath

Gary Huggett, a history teacher at PVPA, called the death of Brittany McGrath a huge loss. “She was actually one of my favorite students,” he said.

“She formed a nice combination with her younger sister Chelsea. They were very strong and opinionated young ladies,” Huggett said. “Brittany never hesitated to let her opinions be known.”

Huggett coaches the school’s mock trial team, of which Brittany McGrath was a four-year member. It was her senior year when she helped her team finish as the runner-up in the state competition.

Brittany McGrath acted as the closer for the team, using her height to stand tall in the courtroom, Huggett said.

He recalled when she delivered the closing argument in 2004 in front of then associate justice Roderick Ireland. She remained composed despite the pressure.

“He interrupted her closing three times in the middle and she didn’t lose a step,” Huggett said.

Huggett also taught McGrath in three history classes, describing her as “absolutely very brilliant and intelligent.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at


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