When Jay Devine’s brother, Tim, died of lung cancer in 1999, he left behind a family that included three small children.
Five years later, together with those kids, his wife Cathy and his own children—Kelly, Kevin, Daniel, Robert and Kim—Jay Devine began participating in a fundraising walk that benefitted the cancer center at Norwalk Hospital.
Known today as the Whittingham Cancer Center Walk & Sally’s Run, the event grew into an important annual family gathering for the Devines.
It became so important to Kelly Devine, in fact, that even those who knew her casually as a colleague in the New Canaan Public Schools district say they understood it was a high priority for the teacher.
Kelly died suddenly following a brief illness on April 7. She was 36, and her passing was followed quickly by an outpouring of love and respect from those who knew her as a colleague, friend and coach. The receiving line at her wake was more than three hours long, and an estimated 900 people attended her funeral at St. Philip Church in the Devines’ hometown of Norwalk.
This year, a friend and former colleague of Kelly’s put together a team for the walk. Calling itself “Devine’s Sunshine,” the team already has 38 members and has raised nearly $2,000 for Saturday’s walk-and-run.
“Like everything that has gone on since word of Kelly s death spread, it is one of more thing that the New Canaan community has done or that Shore and Country has done,” Jay Devine said. “The outpouring of affection has been something that we just cannot comprehend. Nothing makes this easier, but it helps to know that so many people regarded Kelly as highly as we did. We always knew she was special and it’s nice to think others did, too.”
Did they ever.
Scores of Devine’s colleagues, friends, students and athletes took to social media as word of her passing spread, posting testimonials about how her abiding influence started in a pool or classroom and held through into colleges, careers and personal lives.
Hannah Magnan, a New Canaan Public Schools teacher, said she was introduced to Kelly by Katie Bakes Leckie, a friend and NCPS educator who created the Devine’s Sunshine team.
According to Magnan, supporting her own family was “so obviously important” to Kelly that joining in the cancer walk-and-run in which her friend intended to participate is a “perfect way to show respect” for her.
“Everyone seems to be coming out of the woodwork to participat in some way for her,” Magnan said. “Everybody wants to do something for her because she did so much for us. You always hear about how after people die, they say, ‘This was the nicest person you ever met, always smiling’—that actually was true of Kelly, she was always making space just sunny and warm. She may well have been one of most beloved teachers in the schools.”
Christine Orlando, a health teacher at Saxe Middle School, where Kelly worked for 12 years before spending the last three at NCHS, called her friend a “wonderful teacher” who “inspired all of us to be better teachers because of how loved she was.”
“There doesn’t ever seem to be enough that we can do that would possibly replace her, so we have the team,” Orlando said.
The team will be outfitted with official matching T-shirts in blue—Kelly’s favorite color, Orlando said.
“Everything you hear about Kelly is true—she was always smiling, always happy and I know it is has inspired me to try to see the world a little differently,” she said.
Here is the citation on the Devine’s Sunshine team page:
Kelly Devine was a generous, loving woman. She often cheered others on in their lives and the causes they took up. She extended herself through support both in word and deed. We are so grateful for how much she did for us and would like to honor her in a meaningful way.
The Whittingham Cancer Center Walk has been an important event for the Devine Family. Their team participated in the memory of her uncle Timothy “Tex” Devine, who had fought a courageous battle with cancer. The family has walked/run the race over the last several years. Last year, Kelly decided to run, her first time competing in a 5K ever. She was planning on partaking in this event again this year.