Forty-one years ago, on Oct. 17th, 1980, at 2:25 pm, 20-year-old Memorial University of Newfoundland student Judy Lynn Ford from Port aux Basques was tragically killed by a dump trump while trying to cross Prince Philip Parkway in St. John’s.
Judy studied biology as her major with a minor in psychology. She lived in Squires House in the Paton College Residence on MUN Campus.
In a tribute written by biology Dr. Frederick A. Aldrich, he described Judy as “a quiet, industrious and intelligent young lady.” He also stated, “we — the faculty — must always remember that we are here because the Judy Lynn Fords are here.”
According to Peter Jackson, who was an editor at the student newspaper The Muse, “at the time, it was a popular place to cross the parkway because it was near the Chemistry Building, the library and the Thomson Student Centre, and led straight across to the Engineering Building.”
Jackson recalled that Ford was standing at the curb waiting to be acknowledged by traffic. A vehicle stopped for her that was in the closest lane, but the driver in the outside lane did not see her.
In a Telegram article, Jackson stated that the only alternative to the crosswalks was a dark tunnel behind the student residences. He said this was not a suitable option for many, particularly for women.
There were a number of student injuries leading up to Judy’s death. A divided road goes through the middle of MUN. As the campus and the City of St. John’s grew in the 1960s and ’70s, so did the amount of traffic.
Most knew that the Parkway was dangerous. The university agreed that overhead walkways were the solution; however, the administration would only commit to trying to find a solution to the cost — they would not commit to paying for it.
The incident resulted in a week-long student occupation.
According to Jackson, “students began crossing back and forth in an uninterrupted line.”
The police arrested students for refusing to move off the road, but as the number of students grew, police ceased arrests and instead diverted traffic at the nearby intersections.
According to The Daily News, “within an hour, the parkway (was) swarmed with an estimated 2,000 students protesting the absence of safe crossings.”
Jackson stated, “Before long, we resembled road-weary revolutionaries.”
Students shut down all the intersections around campus, and an estimated 4,000 students were there during peak times.
Fast-food restaurants, especially pizza joints, delivered free food to protesters.
According to Jackson, “at times it resembled one big street dance, but by the end of it there were also long spells of dwindling troops and dampened spirits.”
On the last day of the protest, hundreds of high school students left their classes without permission and joined in the protest.
An agreement was finally reached on Oct. 22nd, 1980; the provincial government committed to covering 75 per cent of the cost of the pedways, which amounted to $487,000, and the City of St. John’s and the university agreed to cover the remaining cost at $80,000 each.
“Judy’s death was, and is, a part of our lives. The vigil of the student body and friends has apparently led to the alleviation of the problem of (Prince Philip) Drive. But the tragic events of Oct. 17th had another and perhaps even better affect. The university became a community as I have seldom seen in many years,” stated Aldrich.
On the 39th anniversary of Judy’s death in 2019, the university unveiled a storyboard in her memory. Her parents and sisters attended the event.
In a Telegram article, Judy’s father, Rodney Ford, was quoted as saying, “it’s great how the students stood up and supported us; at least it will prevent some other family from going through what we went through. It’s always a very sad day — one we’ll never forget.”
In a CBC article, he described Judy as “a really great person. Really outgoing, really kind and always wanted to help everybody. She was never upset over anything.”
Shelley Smith states, “I remember it well. I was a student living in Coughlan College at the time, and we were a very active group of participants in the Parkway blockade.”
Jan Hardy Walsh said that she also remembers that day clearly and that she “cannot drive the Parkway without thinking of this, every time.”
Fred Dinham states, “Extremely sad day. I protested, marched and barricaded on crutches. I’m glad we remember her.”
Almost all students on campus either took part in the protest themselves or knew people who did. It was the talk of the entire campus and the wider community. This movement was, and still is, an example of the power of collective action; the students would not stop until the authorities agreed to their demands, and they won.
Let us never forget the name Judy Lynn Ford.
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.