Remembering a native son of Kelligrews
**Photo: HONOURING A NATIVE SON OF KELLIGREWS—The first ever Remembrance Day ceremonies held at Admirals Academy in Kelligrews last Wednesday were capped with the dedication of the school’s learning commons to the late Darrell Cronin, a Search and Rescue technician who was killed along with five other SAR Tecs 20 years ago in a helicopter crash in Northern Quebec. On hand for the ceremony were from left: the organizer of the event, Wayne Miller, who is an honourary colonel in the Canadian Forces; SAR Tec Scott Elliston, the commander of 9 Wing Gander air force base Lieut. Col. Jenn Weissenborn: Cronin’s brothers Keith Cronin and Curtis Cronin, Cronin’s widow Melinda Patton, school principal Nancy Healey, SAR Tec Gus Ryan and former CBS Mayor Woodrow French.**
Admirals Academy capped its first ever Remembrance Day ceremonies last week with the dedication of the school’s library to Darrell Cronin, a Kelligrews native who lost his life serving with the Canadian Armed Forces Search and Rescue squadron.
Cronin grew up just down the road from the site of the new elementary school and like all the members of his family, was a well-known and well-liked member of the community during his childhood and youth. News of his death along with fire other Sar Tecs in a training exercise in Quebec on October 2, 1998 rocked people in Conception Bay South, because so many people knew him and his family.
The accident occurred just a year after 32-year-old Cronin had been singled out for bravery by the Canadian Forces for his role in a daring rescue mission involving the crew of a distressed tanker off the coast of Newfoundland. Cronin left behind a wife, Melinda Patton, and two young children, Christopher and Tanisha, now 28 and 23 years old respectively.
But former Mayor and Canadian Forces member Woody French, who served as the emcee for the dedication ceremony following the school’s first ever Remembrance Day ceremonies in the gymnasium, said despite the tragedy, what was happening in the library was a celebration.
“I did a lot of research and while I didn’t serve with Darrell, I served with his uncle,” French noted. “We both served together here in St. John’s, back in the day. There’s been a lot written about Darrell… Certainly, for the people who knew him, I don’t have to tell you of the commitment he made to the Canadian Forces and to all Canadians especially in the role he took upon himself as a Search and Rescue technician. They fly and go out in weather that … they fly when we wouldn’t walk. And that will show you the commitment as well.”
School principal Nancy Healey welcomed Cronin’s family and a stream of dignitaries to the new school. “We’re honoured to have all of you here today as we dedicate our library learning commons to Master Corporal Darrell Cronin,” said Healey referring to the modern name for a school library. “This learning commons will be the hub of our school and we are so proud that it will be named in his honour.”
Among the guest on hand were members of the Canadian Forces, including SAR Tecs from 9Wing Gander. That base’s commanding officer, Lieut. Col. Jenn Weissenborn, spoke for the SAR Tecs in particular.
“It means a lot to be part of this today,” said Weissenborn. “And it means a lot to get to meet you, because I knew some of the crewmembers who died the same day as Master Corporal Darrell Cronin.”
Weissenborn then recited the names of the other SAR Tecs who died with Cronin that day in northern Quebec, noting Cronin was the type of man who put service before his self and was all about teamwork and would have wanted his team members mentioned.
“It’s amazing to me as well how everyone in this room and particularly his family and this community keep his memory alive,” said Weissenborn. “Because I know the other five gentleman who also were married and had children, their memories are not kept alive as you have done. And that’s very poignant and touching to me.”
Having flown in a Labrador helicopter herself, Weissenborn said, she knows what goes on inside the craft. “Whether by land, sea, air, whether parachuting, rappelling, or hoisting down, SAR Tecs answer the call of those in the greatest need. And Darrell … really, truly embodied what it means to be a SAR Tec and he embodied the model.”
Following Weissenborn’s remarks, a portrait of Cronin was unveiled in the library, before a mural depicting SAR Tec work painted by local artists JoAnne Stone and Gill Moores. Cronin’s wife Melinda Patton and his brother Keith Cronin helped reveal the portrait.
“I’m really not one for public speaking,” said Patton. “But I do want to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you who are here today. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. It’s amazing how over two decades have passed. There are some days that it feels like yesterday. I know that Darrell would be very proud and happy to know that he’s remembered so fondly.”
Patton said she and Cronin met on November 6, 1987. “On the 7th, I called my mother, I was living in Ontario and she was living in Nova Scotia,” said Patton. “I called her and told her I met the man I’m going to marry.”
Patton cited a series of recent coincidences that leads her to believe Cronin might still be watching over her. “When I realized that I was going to make the trip, I booked my hotel and the confirmation number was the last three digits of my husband’s social insurance number,” she said. “When I arrived yesterday and took possession of my rental car, adjusted all the mirrors, got everything ready to go, put the car in drive and our wedding song comes on the radio. So ironically enough, I do think he’s telling me that he’s happy I’m here… So again, I can’t tell you how much this means to me and my family… Thanks for all your efforts.”
Returning to the podium, French thanked retired Canadian Forces member and CBS resident Wayne Miller for spearheading the effort to recognize Cronin. Sherry and Steve Mercer, the owners of the Mary Brown’s franchise located next door to Admirals Academy, then presented a cheque to the school in memory of Cronin.
The chief executive officer of the English School District, himself a former Canadian Forces member who served in Afghanistan, Tony Stack, complimented the school on the ceremony. “I’m very honoured to be part of a district that has a school like this that remembers in a profound way,” he said.
“To the Cronin family, a learning commons is a special place,” Stack added. “It really is the heartbeat of any school environment. So, this is a very special honour and I want to thank you for allowing us to use a native son of Kelligrews, his name, in this brand new beautiful school. I dedicate this room in honour of his service. It is a reminder to us all on this Remembrance Week celebrations that there are many forms of service and we cannot forget that Canadian Forces members also serve day in, day out, domestically supporting and helping and aiding people in their times of most need. Darrell’s service exemplified that. So, thank you all for being here. This is a day of celebration, because forever more this heartbeat of the school community will be honoured to have Darrell’s name associated with it.”