The COVID-19 pandemic may be fading in the United States, but in its wake the virus leaves roughly 600,000 lives lost.

With many families and friends looking for ways to honor their lost loved ones, a local artist is offering to help. Robert Markey is painting portraits of people who have died from COVID-19 — and he’s doing it for free.

Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman visited Markey’s studio to see his work, and to learn about the remarkable life led by one of his most recent subjects, former Springfield resident Frances Borden Hubbard.

Read the full transcript of this episode.


Robert Markey’s Portraits of COVID-19


Read the Full Transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The COVID-19 pandemic may be fading in the United States, but in its wake it leaves roughly 600,000 lives lost due to the virus.

As many families and friends are finding ways to honor their lost loved ones, a local artist is offering to help. Robert Markey is painting portraits of people who have died from COVID-19, and he’s doing it for free.

Connecting Point’s Ross Lipmann visited Markey’s studio to see his work and to learn about the remarkable life led by one of his most recent subjects, former Springfield resident Frances Borden Hubbard.

Ross Lippman, Connecting Point: Deep in the woods of Ashfield, where the mornings are calm and quiet, Robert Markey heads into his studio. On his easel is a photo and an empty canvas.

Markey is a portrait artist, and just as he has with countless faces before, he will slowly bring this picture of Frances Borden Hubbard to life.

Robert Markey, Artist: When I asked to do the portrait, I asked for information about the person, so I know — kind of know who they are. And I asked for a few high resolution photos, so I can kind of — because I’ve never painted anyone that I haven’t known before.

Ross Lippman: And he’ll never get to know Frances. She died on April 11th, 2020 from COVID-19.

Robert Markey: I’ll do this, and then change it a little bit, and then come back tomorrow to repaint it.

Ross Lippman: This is Robert’s most recent project. Every person he’s painted over the last few months has died from COVID.

Robert Markey: I just wanted to do something that helped people. So, I put something up on Facebook. And I got, I think I got three responses. I have a friend whose sister died, I have a friend, and so I started doing it.

And it felt like…it felt really good.

Ross Lippman: From their word spread of Markey’s portraits and more requests came for him to paint loved ones lost during the pandemic. There was Sandy Polansky, Ruth McBride, Frank Bush, and Britney Bruner-Ringo.

But today he’s painting Frances, a woman who touched many lives as a public health official and advocate.

Theresa Glenn, Friend of Frances Borden Hubbard: She was a wonderful storyteller. But most, you know, most importantly, she was a mentor to me.

Ross Lippman: Including Theresa Glenn.

Theresa Glenn: I met her when she came to my class at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health. Frances was asked to come and speak to the class. She talked a lot about her experiences as an organizer.

And I just I loved her. I just immediately thought, this is an amazing person that, you know, I would love to work with. I would love to get to know.

Ross Lippman: She eventually moved to Springfield and became a public health official for the city, at one point serving as its HIV/AIDS director in the 1990s. That’s where she became Theresa’s mentor and longtime friend.

Theresa Glenn: She believed in the power and ability of communities to change health conditions. And she also felt like a city like Springfield, it’s like there’s an emergency all the time.

You know, the people that are are without food. There are people that are have very serious health conditions. It’s like having having a fire, you know, that’s that’s happening all the time.

Ross Lippman: But the most important relationship in Frances’s life was with her son, Scott. She moved to Springfield in order to help Scott raise his children.

When Francis died, there could not be a funeral. Instead, an online vigil was held for nearly three hours.

Scott Hubbard, Frances’s Son: My mother was truly my best friend, my confidant, my hero, my mentor, my coach. She was my everything. And we had a unique, beautiful relationship.

Ross Lippman: Theresa asked Markey to paint Frances, so that she could give the portrait to Scott.

Theresa Glenn: I know how heartbroken I am and I know how heartbroken her son is. And I thought, it would be really nice to have the painting and give it to her son. And so that inspired me even more.

I’m excited to see what his…how he’s created this this portrait of this person that I so love and appreciate.

Theresa Glenn: That is so beautiful. Oh, my gosh, it does. Oh, my gosh. That is so lovely. Oh, you did such a beautiful job. Thank you so much. It’s going to make me cry. It’s beautiful.

Robert Markey: I’m always nervous when someone comes in to see it. Do I do it right?

Theresa Glenn: No, you did. You did. It’s beautiful.

Ross Lippman: Francis Borden Hubbard lived a full life.

Theresa Glenn: I’m so impressed. I love her face. She looks so, so happy.

Ross Lippman: And while a painting can’t bring her back, it can certainly keep her memory alive.

Theresa Glenn: Part of me was not sure I wanted to connect the memory of her with the painting and the memory of her death, of dying of of COVID. I wanted to remember her from days that we spent, you know, together doing things and working together, which is a lot of what we did.

I didn’t want to remember her as as a hero in a pandemic. I wanted to remember her as Frances, who was a beloved friend and mentor.