‘Their lives are cause to celebrate’: Edward O. Hanlon Jr., Ilona L. Murray identified as pedestrians struck and killed by car in Easthampton

  • Edward O. Hanlon Jr., 81, and Ilona L. Murray, 60, of Easthampton, talk during a Manna Soup Kitchen meal in 2016. The dedicated volunteers were struck and killed by a car on Tuesday night. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Easthampton residents Edward O. Hanlon Jr., 81, and Ilona L. Murray, 60, were struck and killed by a vehicle on Route 10 near the Burger King restaurant Tuesday. The couple was known in the area for their volunteer efforts. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Easthampton residents Edward O. Hanlon Jr., 81, and Ilona L. Murray, 60, are shown in a recent photo. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Easthampton residents Edward O. Hanlon Jr., 81, and Ilona L. Murray, 60, were struck and killed by a vehicle on Route 10 near the Burger King restaurant Tuesday.  SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 12:33:55 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Edward Hanlon Jr. and Ilona Murray dedicated time almost every day as volunteers, serving meals to others at organizations like Manna Soup Kitchen and the biweekly Building Bridges veterans luncheon, hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

When the Easthampton couple didn’t show up for their volunteering duties Wednesday morning, many people from those respective communities took notice, said Steve Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services.

“Without fail, they were always there,” Connor said. “If there was a bus that could get them there, they were there. So when they didn’t show up, everyone was concerned.”

That concern proved well founded Thursday morning when the Northwestern district attorney’s office identified Hanlon, 81, and Murray, 60, as the pedestrians who were struck and killed Tuesday evening as they walked on Route 10 near Burger King restaurant.

The vehicle was driven by a South Hadley resident, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Easthampton Police and Massachusetts state troopers are still investigating the incident.

A fundraiser page to help with funeral expenses was created Thursday by Jasmin Ivory on GoFundMe.

“On August 2nd, 2022, my papa Edward Hanlon was taken from us unexpectedly. Due to my current family’s situation and this unexpected loss, we have created this GoFundMe to help raise money for his Funeral/Memorial cost,” Ivory wrote. “We want to give Edward the memorial he deserves, to honor his memory and say our last goodbyes.”

The news of the couple’s death is devastating to those who spent time with them at Building Bridges, said Chad Wright, associate director of operations of Building Bridges.

“We’re still processing everything,” Wright said. “There is definitely an irreplaceable hole in our hearts. They were such selfless people who dedicated their lives to the service of veterans.”

At this week’s luncheon in Northampton, which is currently being held at the Spare Time Bowling Alley, Wright said Murray had planned to bring a cake to share with everyone to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Hanlon’s and Murray’s commitment to one another.

Murray and Hanlon helped prepare meals with Building Bridges since the entity’s founding. Hanlon also assisted chef Bob Saalfrank at Manna for many years until Saalfrank’s retirement, according to Carl Erickson, former president of Manna’s board of directors.

Prior to his retirement, Hanlon worked as a professional chef for nearly four decades at area restaurants, including the Silver Spoon in Easthampton.

Although neither one served in the U.S. armed forces, Murray, who is a native of Germany, said in a previous interview with the Gazette that it was rewarding to help out the community that has provided for her.

“I like to give back to my country because it gave me so much,” she said.

Even though Murray did most of the talking, Connor described Hanlon and Murray as “interchangeable.” On many occasions, Murray would pop into Connor’s office three to four times a week to tell him what was going on in town and what meal was going to be served.

“She was like everybody’s aunt in town. If people had troubles, they’d tell Ilona and not only would she listen, she’d try to solve whatever problem they had. If she didn’t have the solution, she’d go to someone who did,” said Connor. “Everyone trusted her because she was doing it all the time.”

The Rev. Christopher Carlisle, founder and executive director of Building Bridges, said that the Northampton luncheons were particularly vibrant largely in part because of the generosity of spirit exercised by Hanlon and Murray.

Carlisle described Murray as “effervescent” and as “someone that could talk to anyone,” and Hanlon as “gentle and kind.”

In an interview with the Gazette, Carlisle recalled an occasion where Murray was particularly vocal in noting her distaste with the salad being provided by Building Bridges.

“She thought that we were not providing a good enough salad, so she went out with her very limited funds to buy eggs and olives and other items to make the salad much more worthwhile in her estimation,” he said. “She and Eddie lived by very modest means with very little excess money, but this was the kind of giving that they were constantly doing.”

Carlisle broke the news of their deaths at the Greenfield Elks Lodge luncheon on Thursday morning. He noted that there was an incredible weight in the room as he delivered the announcement.

In past conversations, Murray told Carlisle that volunteering for the organization was their “whole life.”

In the coming days and weeks, Carlisle said that the group will find a way to honor the couple for all of their efforts.

“Their lives are cause to celebrate,” he said.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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