Evan Remley, chair of the English Department at New Canaan High School, used to see fellow teacher Kelly Devine every day during passing time, standing outside her classroom and greeting students with a smile.
It became part of his routine to encounter the beloved NCHS figure this way, and eventually, Remley recalled, he came to rely on “her steady, optimistic and kind soul to cheer me up.”
“One day I asked her, ‘How can you possibly be so cordial and peppy every morning?’ ” Remley recalled Thursday with a smile, addressing 100 of Devine’s family members, friends, colleagues and former students gathered in front of the high school on a brisk, sunny afternoon.
“She smiled and laughed in her infectious way and explained that it had just become a habit. It was second nature to her, being kind and open. Kelly always knew what is so easy for the rest of us to forget: Appreciate the people in your life. So I take gratitude in the placement of this memorial. Knowing that as the years go by, a piece of Kelly will be able to greet our students as they start their day, provide some solace to the routines that can too easily make us forget to enjoy one another.”
He stood next to a granite bench placed prominently beside the main walkway out front of NCHS, etched with ‘In memory of Kelly Devine, 1979-2006, Friend & Teacher’ and this quote from ‘The Book Thief,’ a favorite novel: ‘Her soul sat up. It met me. Those are the kind of souls that always do—the best ones.’
Remley said: “These words are fitting. Kelly never failed to greet a person, and was one of the best souls you could meet.”
A cherished teacher at Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School for nearly 15 years combined, Devine died in April following a brief illness. She was 36.
Tributes to Devine have described a radiant woman and uniquely gifted educator, friend and coach—she was a talented swimmer who went on to coach at Shore & Country Club in Norwalk—who loved her family and her multiple communities at school, church and on the pool deck, and had an abiding respect for language and writing.
The bench outside the high school—gift of the New Canaan High School PFA, whose co-presidents Jennifer Essigs and Kristen O’Connor were in attendance at the dedication ceremony—follows a series of memorials established in Devine’s honor by communities that found themselves reeling in the aftermath of her sudden passing, and have felt in the intervening months for ways to mark, recall and celebrate her life.
Some 800 people attended her funeral at St. Philip Church in Norwalk, a scholarship for Norwalk High School students and award for NCHS students were established in her name, and the inaugural “Kelly Devine Dual” swim meet between New Canaan and Norwalk high school teams was held in October.
At the bench dedication, which was followed by a reception inside, NCHS Principal Bill Egan welcomed those in attendance, and gave special thanks to the PFA for its design.
Kelly’s father, Jay Devine, said that he was pleasantly surprised by the weight and permanence of the memorial.
“I was thinking it would be a wooden bench,” he said. “I had no idea it was going to be something like this.”
Remley said that in his own 15 years at NCHS, he has “always been especially proud of the strong bond between our staff, our students and our parents, and this bench is a proud testament to that support.”
“Kelly Devine was a teacher and a coach for our schools for nearly 15 years. She came to us young and, tragically, she was taken from us young. But in that span, she touched so many lives that one would think she lived many lifetimes. The inscription on this bench is from the novel ‘The Book Thief,’ Kelly’s favorite book. This is a book about the power of words in stories, and in particular, the power of stories to remember and honor those we have lost.”
Her mom, Cathy, clutched a copy of the novel during the dedication. The book itself, in fact, had been inscribed by the author to Kelly Devine during a book signing in Darien, just weeks before she passed.
Of the bench, Cathy Devine said: “It’s not reminding us that Kelly died. It’s reminding us that she lived. And she lived.”