‘They were the glue that held us together’: Toy fund contributor remembers her parents

  • The late Stephen and Rita Cahillane of Northampton. Photo courtesy of Linda Cahillance Smith

  • Stephen and Rita Cahillane in early 2021, after they had not been able to see one another for much of 2020 because of the pandemic. Photo by and courtesy of Linda Cahillance Smith

Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2022 3:42:06 PM
Modified: 11/30/2022 3:41:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When Linda Cahillane Smith thinks of her late parents, Stephen and Rita Cahillane, one phrase in particular comes to mind: “They were the glue that held us together.”

The former Northampton couple, high school sweethearts who had been married for over 60 years when they died last year, “were the most loving people, with each other and with us [their children],” said Cahillane Smith. “They loved children in general, and they showed it in many ways.”

Cahillane Smith, who has five siblings, all of whom live in Massachusetts, including four here in the Valley, says Christmas was “always special” because of those tight family bonds. That’s why she’s donated both this year and last to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund, which makes funds available each holiday season for children of needy families.

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes vouchers worth $50 to families for each eligible child from age 1 to 14.

Cahillane Smith, a graphic artist and illustrator who lives in Hatfield, said the Toy Fund’s goal dovetails perfectly with her parents’ interests, which were always centered on her and her siblings.

“When my parents died, we were all saying to each other, ‘Will we still be together?’” she said. “But in retrospect, I can see that we are — my mother and father really built that foundation for us, that we all care for one another and want to keep our family connections.”

Stephen and Rita Cahillane were together for a long time. Both were born and raised in Northampton, graduating from Northampton High School in 1954; the high school sweethearts married two years later.

Stephen Cahillane worked in real estate and with a family automobile business, among other things, and he was active in civic organizations such as the Northampton Rotary Club. He also coached in Northampton’s Pee Wee football league, in which his sons played and his daughters did their part as cheerleaders.

“My mom was also involved in all of this in different ways, as busy as she was in raising six kids,” said Cahillane Smith. “And both of them were really good about supporting our interests as we got older, and welcoming our friends into the home … they were like extended family.”

The couple retired to Florida for about 20 years beginning in the late 1990s, but they moved back to the area a few years before COVID-19 arrived to live in the Lathrop Community in Easthampton. But after that, things became more difficult — another reason Cahillane Smith has donated to the Toy Fund in their memory.

Her mother, she said, began declining perhaps a year before the pandemic, and the family moved her to The Arbors, an Amherst facility that offers assisted living units as well as care for Alzheimer’s patients. Then COVID came, “and all of us were in lockdown and we couldn’t see each other.”

Cahillane Smith moved her mother to her home in Hatfield early last year to care for her there; she died in March 2021. Stephen Cahillane, who was finally able to see his wife early last year, also began declining, his daughter says, and he died in July 2021.

“It was a really terrible time for us,” said Cahillane Smith. “But my parents left us with so much love and such a strong sense of family, so we have that to carry us forward.”

To be eligible for the Toy Fund, families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett, and in Holyoke in Hampden County.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Blue Marble/Little Blue, 150 Main St., Level 1, Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; High Five Books, 141 N. Main St., Florence; The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Once Upon A Child,1458 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Plato’s Closet, 1472 Riverdale St., West Springfield; Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 W. Bay Road, Amherst; World Eye Bookshop, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co., and 1584 Dwight St. No. 1, Holyoke.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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