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.
This story originally aired on June 11, 2021.
Robert Markey’s Portraits of COVID-19
Frank Bush passed way on April 2nd, 2020. He was 74 years old. For years Frank devoted himself to supporting the Westfield Fire Department, where he would visit the firehouse every day for six decades to help cook breakfast for the firefighters working. In 2004, the department made him an Honorary Firefighter, including a uniform he’d proudly wear whenever the opportunity presented itself. Learn more about Frank Bush in the Westfield News.
Dana Davis was on the frontlines of the pandemic as a nurse at Baptist Health Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. After months treating COVID patients, she tested positive herself and died from the virus in July of 2020. She is survived by her husband Mike as well as her children and stepchildren. She was 51 years old. Learn more about Dana Davis in the Courier-Journal.
Brittany Bruner-Ringo passed away April on 20th, 2020. She as 32 years old. The LA Times chronicled Bruner-Ringo’s experience working as a nurse at a dementia care center in Los Angeles, where she contracted and ultimately died from COVID-19. Before her, both Brittany’s mother and grandmother were also nurses. She was described as being an empathetic person with an upbeat personality.
James Patrick Joseph Hill passed away on April 16th, 2020. Due to restrictions while he was hospitalized battling COVID-19, no family or priest were allowed to be present to mark the end of his life. As a consolation, he received an Apostolic Pardon through the Catholic Church. James was a devoted uncle to his nieces and nephews. He enjoyed visiting museums, fine food, classical music, reading, and Red Sox games. Read James Hill’s obituary here .
Alexandria Louise “Sandy” Polansky passed away on May 7th, 2020. She was 62 years old. After spending 10 years in Northern California living off the land, Sandy attended Middlesex County College and then Rutgers University where she earned a BA degree with high honors in English. She was a dedicated aunt to her 11 nieces and nephews, sending a creative handcrafted birthday card to each of them every year. Read Sandy Polansky’s obituary here .
Frances Borden Hubbard passed away April 11th, 2020. Born in 1932 on a sharecropper farm in Virginia, her family moved to New York where she became an activist during the Civil Rights Movement. Her mentor was Queen Mother Moore, a contemporary to Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Jesse Jackson. She later became a public health advocate, serving at one time as Vice President of 1199 SEIU, a union for health care workers which is currently the largest labor union in North America. She is survived by her son Scott Hubbard.
Ruth E. McBride passed away on May 18th, 2020. She was 88 years old. Ruth was born in Adams, and graduated from Adams High School in 1950. Years later she would teach in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District. Ruth’s husband Anthony McBride passed away in 2017, and she is survived by her four sons and 8 grandchildren. Read Ruth E. McBride’s obituary here .
Rana Zoe Mungin passed away on April 27th, 2020. She was 30 years old. Rana was a graduate of Wellesley College and UMass Amherst, where she received her Masters of Fine Arts in fiction. While at Umass, Rana worked to improve conditions racially on campus. As the college described Rana, “(she) pushed the needle at UMass on conversations about institutional racism.” Read Rana Zoe Mungin’s obituary here .
Jimmy Soto was described by his family as very creative. He was known for the nativity scenes he would make every year, something he started with his family growing up. Jimmy was born and raised in Peru and moved to the United State when he was 29. In college he majored in history and geography. Jimmy is survived by his wife and 4 daughters.
Barbara Rose Spierer passed away on April 17th, 2020. She loved to dance and perform. During her time in Northampton she joined the Dance Generators and The Young at Heart Chorus. Barbara Rose was also very involved with the local Jewish organization Hadassah and the sisterhood at Congregation Bnai Israel.
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.