In memory of young Northboro man, big bucket delivers icy tribute across the 'boros
By Brad Petrishen, Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Natalie Bruce of Northboro, administrative assistant to Westboro Police Chief Alan Gordon, steps out from a deluge of ice water being dumped on members of the Westboro Police Department during an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge fundraising event behind Westboro police headquarters Tuesday. Ms. Bruce's son Matthew Bruce, 26, died from ALS in March. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)
WESTBORO — For cynics and contrarians, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has become an insufferable trend, an excuse to denigrate those who follow the crowd, or castigate those who would dare clog up social media feeds.
For public officials in Northboro and Westboro, it's become an outlet for grief and a vehicle for compassion, a heartfelt tribute to a life lost too soon.
"It just makes me smile," a sopping wet Natalie Bruce, whose 26-year-old son Matt died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in March, said Tuesday afternoon in the Westboro police station parking lot. "I know how happy Matt would be. I can just see him doing the thumbs up."
Ms. Bruce, assistant to Police Chief Alan Gordon, had just been soaked with 150 gallons of ice-cold water dumped from a front-end loader onto the heads of about 20 officers and staff members.
Soaked from head to toe, Ms. Bruce raised her arms up, smiled and accepted the first of many hugs. Up in the Forbes Municipal Building behind her, town employees — one draping a sign reading "Go Chief Go" — cheered.
"Unbelievable," Ms. Bruce said of the local spin on the challenge, which began in Northboro and is quickly spreading to area public safety departments and town halls.
Westboro police Officer Jeffrey Johnson gives a hug to Natalie Bruce of Northboro on Tuesday after they were doused in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)
"It's something that has been very personal here," Northboro Police Chief Mark Leahy said last Thursday, moments before a front-end loader dumped 350 pounds of ice water on top of about 14 officers, himself included.
Sgt. Jim Bruce, Natalie's husband, is a longtime veteran of the Northboro department. The force decided to do the challenge to honor the couple's son, with Chief Leahy challenging the Westboro police and Northboro fire departments and posting the video to Facebook.
"It exploded," said Chief Leahy. Since Thursday, the video has been shared nearly 3,500 times and, according to Facebook, has reached a total of 369,536 people.
After watching the video, Northboro firefighters completed the challenge, issuing their own challenges to the Westboro and Southboro fire departments and the Northboro Board of Selectmen.
All five selectmen doused themselves in front of Town Hall Monday afternoon, but not before calling out Southboro selectmen, the Northboro K-12 and Algonquin Regional school committees, and new School Superintendent Christine Johnson.
The Northboro DPW also took the challenge, issuing dares to their public works cohorts in Shrewsbury, Southboro, Westboro, Berlin and Boylston.
"It's pretty awesome," said Ms. Bruce. "It's hugely humbling to us that people wanted to do it in Matt's memory.
"If even a couple people who didn't know what ALS was take the time to research it, and find out what a terrible, terrible disease it is, then it's all worthwhile."
ALS is a terminal illness that degenerates motor neurons throughout the body until death.
Mr. Bruce, an aspiring embalmer who worked at Mercadante Funeral Home in Worcester, did numerous interviews about his condition after his diagnosis in summer 2013.
His rallying cry, "Never give up," inspired his many friends, and in May the Muscular Dystrophy Association posthumously awarded Mr. Bruce its ALS "Spirit" Award.
The ALS Association, a large Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that takes on the disease, announced Tuesday it has received $22.9 million since July 29 – nearly $21 million more than it raised in the same span last year.
Another organization accepting donations is Compassionate Care ALS, a Falmouth-based nonprofit that assisted Mr. Bruce.
Sgt. Bruce, himself an Ironman competitor, ran the Falmouth Road Race Sunday along with the couple's daughter, Lauren, to raise money for Compassionate Care ALS.
"It was a very emotional day," said Ms. Bruce, whose husband pushed an empty wheelchair during the race in memory of their son. He had planned to push Matt in the chair before he died.
"The chair was all decked out in black and gold for the Bruins," said Ms. Bruce. "Matt would have loved it."
To donate to Compassionate Care ALS, visit ccals.org.
Contact Brad Petrishen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG