BRISTOL BOROUGH >> It sounded more like a clogged Manhattan street at rush hour than quiet Wilson Avenue.
For more than 15 minutes, Mary Gesualdi smiled and waved as a parade of cars rolled past her front door Friday afternoon honking, beeping and flashing their lights.
Just moments earlier, the newly-retired Bristol Borough School District Reading Specialist, who spent more than 50 years educating generations of Bristolians, was spending a quiet afternoon at home.
That is until her husband brought her outside where she was greeted by Gene Williams, executive director of the Grundy Foundation, and Amy McIlvaine, representing the Academic Oversight Committee. They surprised her with a bouquet of flowers and a ceremonial tiara.
Gesualdi was then escorted to the road where it seemed like half the cars in Bristol were lined up to honor and thank her for all she has done for the community.
The love, respect and admiration were evident as car after car rolled by and Gesualdi was showered with gifts, boxes of chocolates, flowers, handmade signs and even bubbles.
“You are the best,” someone shouted. “We love you, Mary,” yelled someone else.
One car brought greetings from the Kindergarten classes. Others were driven by friends, former students, relatives and colleagues, all there to show their thanks and love.
“Oh my God, I don’t believe this,” said Gesualdi literally overwhelmed by the public showing. “Thank you so much,” she said, running over to many of the cars to personally greet the occupants.
The parade of cars concluded with Bristol Borough Police Chief Steven Henry sounding his siren.
“I’m speechless for once in my life,” said Gesualdi. “This is Bristol. That’s all I can tell you. This can only happen in Bristol. It was a big surprise,” she continued. “This is what 50 years in education does for you. There are unbelievable people in this town. It’s so typical of this town.”
The event was organized to recognize Gesualdi for her many years in education and to boost her spirits following a recent cancer diagnosis.
Helping to organize the celebration were members of the Academic Oversight Committee, colleagues from the Bristol Borough School District, including LaToya Sahs, Dawn DeLuca, Kristin Feight and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rose Minniti, and the Bristol Cultural & Historical Foundation.
“This is very deserving,” said Gene Williams who serves on the AOC board with Mary. “She’s a community advocate, a volunteer, and probably one of the most caring and endearing person that I know. She’s good people.”
“Mary has been a hallmark in the educational community in Bristol Borough and across the county,” added McIlvaine, who also serves on the AOC board. “Mary is wonderful. She brings enthusiasm. She brings a lot of spirit to everything she does. I was stunned when I saw the volume of cars. And that’s a reflection of everything she does for the community.”
Latoya Wood Sahs, who watched the whole surprise play out from the sidewalk, was beaming over the fact that she had made Mary cry - but for a good reason.
“Mary is probably one of the most humble people that we have ever met and one of the most giving,” said Sahs. “When we were asked to take part in this to commemorate her service as well as to honor her going through this cancer diagnosis we wanted to make sure we brought everyone together so she knows that everyone is behind her.”
“She is a true role model and inspires me as friendly and welcoming and as loving as she is,” said Dawn DeLuca.
“If you noticed there were a lot of children in the parade,” added Kristin Feight. “That speaks to her ability, her legacy as a teacher and the town in general. She just does so many things. A lot of people love and care for her.”