LONDONDERRY — It was as if Edmond Thibodeau, beloved former principal of Londonderry High School, willed the sun to come out from behind the dark clouds during a memorial tribute in his honor Wednesday afternoon.
There were tears mingling with the few raindrops that did fall at the beginning of the ceremony. But like the sunshine that broke through, there were many smiles at the fond memories of Thibodeau shared through speakers including Principal Jim Elefante, past assistant principal Ed Boyle, former co-workers, Thibodeau's daughters, coach Ed Burgess and English teacher Kelly Giguere.
Thibodeau, of Salem, died on March 5 in Manchester at the age of 78. The former resident of Derry and Londonderry was principal at the high school from 1977 to 1996.
Thibodeau created the garden in 1993 when Doug Mailman, head of the high school's English department died. Over the years, benches have been added to the garden — located between the track and football field — in memory of deceased students, staff and community members who gave time to the school. It was dedicated to Thibodeau during the May 21 memorial tribute.
"He was a good and great friend," Boyle said, addressing the assembled crowd of about 60 people after opening remarks by Burgess.
"If you have a friend, you're a rich man," Boyle continued. "Ed must have been a multimillionaire."
Elefante fondly recalled attending a principals' conference in North Conway during the summer of 1982, when he was principal of the district's then junior high school.
"I drove back with Ed, and he took no highway or any recognizable road," he said.
"It was during that 4 1/2-hour ride that I received my master's degree in ET (Ed Thibodeau) 101. There was no air-conditioner, no radio, and I learned quite a lot from him during that ride."
Elefante said no one could ever say "no" to Thibodeau.
"He was the chair of the cross-country team and invited me to a meeting on a Wednesday night," Elefante said. "He nominated me for assistant chair and then said he was retiring as chair."
The crowd smiled.
"This is your school, Ed," Elefante concluded. "This will always be your school."
Present and past school staff took turns reading a poem written by Thibodeau — a take on Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech."
Margaret Agati, former director of home economics; Tom Ciccarello, industrial arts teacher; Elaine Kennedy, former administrative assistant and Dan Kiestlinger, former physical education teacher, read about Thibodeau's dream for a school with students who want to go places, a school that has spirit and pride, leadership, the best staff and more.
Giguere spoke about knowing Thibodeau since she was in the sixth grade and her family moved to Londonderry.
"I visited him while I was in college and told him that I wasn't happy as a biology and pre-med major," Giguere said.
"Ed asked me if I ever thought about teaching."
Giguere said that she was shy in school and that was something she never thought she could do. But, she took Thibodeau's advice.
"Here I am," she said. "I've been here for 19 years."
Giguere said that Thibodeau also taught her the greatest lesson in 1993 when Mailman died from a heart attack.
"He taught us how to grieve," she said. "This garden became a special place for me that day. Ed taught me to move forward and never become stagnant, and I pass that along to my students."
Thibodeau's daughters, Sandra Griffin of Salem and Norma Jean Thibodeau of Port Charlotteville, Fla., spoke about how their dad loved to stop by and visit the garden behind the school.
"This garden holds so many memories for me and my father," Norma Jean Thibodeau said.
Her sister, Sandra, who was accompanied by her daughter Alana, 10, read a poem, "Saying Good-bye," written by their father.
During the ceremony, the school's chamber choir sang "Danny Boy." Closing the ceremony, Danielle Lucas, chorus director, sang "The Impossible Dream," accompanied by music director Andy Soucy.
Under the new archway with Thibodeau's name, created by Hanna Metalworks Inc., teacher Susan Trammell said, "This archway frames the depths of Ed's plans."