By Judy Wakefield
---- — As her four young children excitedly peered over a fence in Cleveland Circle in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood watching the city’s historic marathon last year, Vivian McNeeley remembers smiling at the heartwarming family moment, but only for a minute.
The horrific tragedy at the Boston Marathon finish line changed everything. Within moments, three spectators were killed and 264 others were injured when the terrorist bombs exploded.
Two of the victims were siblings — about the same ages as two of McNeeley’s own children. Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, was killed while his sister, Jane Richard, now 8, lost a leg.
The Andover mother said the late Martin Richard reminded her of 10-year-old son, Max. And Jane Richard was an Irish step dancer, just like McNeeley’s own 8-year-old daughter, Angela.
Add that to the fact that McNeeley, who ran the 2012 Boston Marathon, would have been on the 26-mile course last year had it not been for a foot injury she was recovering from and there was a lot for her to absorb.
“The parallel was just incredible ...,” McNeeley said. “Since I couldn’t run, I went in to watch the race with my family. I have a picture of my kids standing on the railing watching the runners much like the photo of Martin taken moments before the bombs went off.”
The horror of the day left her feeling the need to help in some way, she said.
“I knew I wanted to do something, donate to the One Fund or something to help those families,” she said. “I’m a Boston native and this is my city, my marathon ....”
Now, a year after the tragedy, she has indeed done something locally to help the victims, the Richard family in particular. That something is on display at Memorial Hall Library in Andover.
McNeeley’s spontaneous photographs of the Boston Marathon memorial set up randomly by people following the tragedy are featured in an exhibit on the library’s first floor.
A professional painter, McNeeley found herself visiting the finish line about two weeks after the bombings in search of artistic inspiration. The scene that day was “quiet and peaceful” and she was touched by the outpouring of tributes that lined the area around the site of the bombings, she said.
She started taking photographs on her iPhone and the exhibit idea soon developed. Seventeen of those photos are on display.
McNeeley is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the photographs to the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation. The matted and framed, 8-by-10- and 11-by-14-inch images are priced from $85 to $100. So far, two of the photographs have sold.
The gesture is her way of contributing to Boston Strong. McNeeley, who is not running in this year’s Boston Marathon because she says bibs were very hard to come by, lives on Main Street with her husband, Mike, who, in addition to Max and Angela, are also parents to Luke, 6, and Jessica, 4.
She is also a licensed elementary art educator whose work is influenced by the portraits of John Singer Sargent and Gustav Klimt. Her paintings have been commissioned by several Massachusetts businesses and a few of her acrylic works are on exhibit at the library as well.
But it is her moving photographs that she hopes captures people’s attention. The exhibit runs through April 30 and McNeeley is aiming to sell every photograph before the month is over.
She feels good knowing the money she raises will be invested in the areas of education, athletics and community by the foundation (Team MR8) set up in memory of young Martin Richard.
“I just wanted to do something for the Richard family and I’m a strong supporter of their foundation in their son’s memory,” she said. “I really believe in what this foundation is doing.”
For more information on the foundation, visit www.teamMR8.org. To contact McNeeley, email her at email@example.com.