Tuesday marks a year since the death of Walter Robb, a pioneering General Electric researcher, who was the first local resident to have died from COVID-19.
In commemoration of Robb, as well as the 1,000-plus Capital Region residents who have been claimed by COVID-19, United Way of the Greater Capital Region (UWGCR) will host a vigil at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“It’s an appropriate remembrance for the people who’ve realized the worst possible impact of this pandemic, which is the loss of a loved one and the loss of life, which is so painful for so many families here throughout the Capital Region,” said Peter Gannon, the president and CEO of UWGCR.
Robb started working for GE in 1951 and during his time there he led the company’s Medical Services division, overseeing the development of the CT scanner and improvements in both MRI and ultrasound technology. He retired in 1993 after 42 years with the company.
After that, he became a published author, owned the Albany Firebirds and Albany River Rats, and became involved in several successful ventures through his consulting company, Vantage Management. Robb was also a well-known philanthropist and donated to United Way among other organizations.
The vigil, which will be held at the Congregation Gates of Heaven and live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube, includes a reading of “What we have now,” an original poem by Troy-based poet D. Colin about healing, remembering and moving forward. Beyond that, a mural dedicated to those who have been affected most by the pandemic, and painted by artist Rachel Baxter, will be unveiled.
“As an organization, at United Way since my tenure started two-plus years ago, I’ve been very interested in using art as a mechanism to tell the story of the folks that we serve in general,” Gannon said. “I thought this would be a remarkable time to use the arts to commemorate all that has transpired over the past year: the lives lost, the people who’ve recovered, and the people on the frontlines.”
Baxter, who partnered with the Albany Center Gallery to create the mural, had her work cut out for her, figuring out a way to visually encompass the hardships and loss that people have experienced this year. To do so, she turned to the language of flowers, incorporating echinacea to symbolize strength, lilacs representing remembrance, zinnia for endurance, mullein for healing and tulips for Albany.
“I want to have a bouquet, an offering that has symbols of remembrance and gratitude, and peacefulness,” Baxter said.
The mural, which is titled “Still Life, With Gratitude,” will travel across the greater Capital Region from Tuesday through April 3 and viewers can add notes about what they’ve experienced during this time.
“My hope is that it first and foremost offers them a moment of peace and reflection,” Baxter said. “There [was] so much loss and darkness in this last year and I wanted this piece to be beautiful and vibrant but also acknowledge that loss. So I hope that they get to look at something beautiful but still let themselves feel everything they need to feel from this past year.”
After the unveiling of the mural and the poetry reading, members of the Robb family and organizers will invite participants to light a candle in remembrance of Robb and the local residents who have died because of COVID-19.
While people will be able to attend in person, there will be a limited capacity so the best way to view the vigil is by tuning in virtually, according to Gannon. For those who attend in person, masks and social distancing are mandatory.
“There’s been a lot of pain, there’s been suffering,” Gannon said. “For some of us, it wasn’t worse than [wearing] a mask or not being able to go out to dinner with friends but for many others, the loss was much, much more significant, the pain was much more significant. But we’ve all collectively been through some level of crisis as a result of this pandemic. Now, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We need to continue that sense of community that got us to this point by continuing to wear our masks, by getting vaccinated when we’re eligible and we can in short order get back to our normal way of life. I think it’s an appropriate time to reflect and I’m looking forward to sharing this project both the mural and the poem with the entire community.”
To tune into the vigil virtually, visit UWGCR on Facebook or YouTube.
“Still Life, With Gratitude,” by Rachel Baxter will be available for viewing 1-6 p.m. daily at the following locations:
Tues., March 23 – Wed., March 24
Congregation Gates of Heaven
852 Ashmore Ave., Schenectady
Thurs., March 25 – Fri., March 26
The Arts Center for the Capital Region
265 River St., Troy
Sat., March 27 – Sun., March 28
Corina Contemporary Jewelry
10 Washington St., Ballston Spa
Mon., March 29
CREATE Council on the Arts
398 Main St., Catskill
Tues., March 30
327 Warren St., Hudson
Wed., March 31
Kelley Farm & Garden
259 West Main St., Cobleskill
Thurs., April 1 – Fri., April 2
Albany Institute of History and Art
125 Washington Ave., Albany
Sat., April 3
The Crossings of Colonie
580 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville
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