Cowart's book a source of comfort to Gill family

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Cranston author and Herald reporter Jennifer Cowart has launched her second book, “I’ll Always Be There,” which tells the story of a little girl who is missing someone special in her life.

The story is inspired by the real-life loss of another Cranston family.

"Ronnie" Gill, Jr., a 1998 Cranston West graduate, was killed in the line of duty in 2007 while conducting operations north of Vashon Island in Puget Sound. PS3 Gill was a member of the Maritime Safety and Security Team of the United States Coast Guard, deployed from Anchorage, Alaska to Seattle, Washington, when he was ejected from a 25-foot Defender Class Boat.

On November 11, 2009, Cowart’s Girl Scout troop (Troop #276) laid wreaths on all of the memorial stones throughout Cranston in honor of Veteran’s Day. As fate would have it, one of the stones Cowart chose was Ronnie Gill’s at Tate Field, adjacent to Bain Middle School.

When the Gill family saw the wreath, they reached out to the troop and invited them to dinner to meet Ronnie’s family, his dad Ron Gill, Sr., mom Rosemary, brother Jonathan and daughter Gracie

“After that initial meeting, he had a few of us come to the December Macaroni and Meatball Dinner and he honored us there, announcing the creation of a Troop 276 Scholarship,” Cowart said.

The scholarship comes through the PS3 Ronald A. Gill Jr. Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which was established to ensure Ronnie's legacy continues.

The Foundation is supported primarily through their annual motorcycle run and a golf tournament. Since it’s inception in 2007, they’ve granted more than $85,000 in scholarships in Ronnie's name to students in Southeastern New England.

After Cowart had covered several events run by the Foundation for the Herald, she was approached by the Gills to write about Ronnie's life, death and the events that led to the creation of the Foundation.

They were looking for an adult book to document their experiences.

“I agreed to try, which led to me meeting with them even more frequently to interview them, in addition to covering their events. It was through all of this interviewing that I learned about the ladybug and its significance to the family. And, it was through all of this interviewing that I heard them express their sadness to me one day that as Gracie got older, she asked more about where her dad was and it was hard for them, sad for them,” Cowart recalls.

To the Gills, the ladybug is a symbol of comfort. Since Ronnie’s death, ladybugs have popped up in their lives, especially at important moments, reminding them of the son, husband, brother and father they love.

In the summer of 2010, while stuck in traffic, Cowart had a new idea for the Gills.

“I was driving to work up at the end of Reservoir Avenue and I hit every red light on the way, starting at Chapel View. At that light, the first line for the story came to me and I wrote it in my interview notebook. I pictured the ladybug fluttering through the story right away and decided to see if I could come up with a second line,” she said. “By the second traffic light, I had it. At each light I had another line from the story and the whole thing rhymed. By the time I reached the end of Reservoir Avenue and my final destination, I had the whole story written. I even could visualize what I wanted it to look like.”

As luck would have it, that summer, Cowart interviewed Bunny Griffeth, a children's book illustrator, for the Herald.

When she saw her work, Cowart knew she had met Griffeth for a reason.

“I told her I had a children's story and if I ever found a publisher for it, her work was exactly what I pictured in my head for my story and hopefully I'd contact her one day to illustrate my book,” Cowart said.

Griffeth has a degree in nursing but has painted all of her life. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and has been studying with CC Wolf at the East Side Art Center in Providence for many years.

A member of the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, as well as the R.I. Watercolor Society, Griffeth’s work has been displayed in shows in Rhode Island and in nearby Massachusetts.

She illustrated “The WaterFire Duck,” by Kiki Latimer, which debuted at WaterFire in September 2009 and “Bubble Butt, The Challenged Sea Turtle of Mystic Aquarium” with its debut in April 2010.

Cowart and Griffeth worked very closely on the design of the book. Gracie’s face had to look just right; the ladybugs couldn’t be too big.

And by mid-September 2010, another Cranston connection was forged.

Locally based Heart & Soul Publishing had agreed to publish, “I'll Always Be There.”

Cowart wanted the Gill family to be involved in the launching of the book, and coordinated it so that the first signings and sales would be held exclusively at the fifth annual golf tournament on Saturday, July 23, at Cranston Country Club – two days after the late Ronnie’s birthday.

Start to finish it was a day Ronnie would have loved.

The family started at 9 a.m., meeting at Ronnie’s grave in Veteran’s Cemetery to have a beer in his honor. They have lunch at the Cranston Country Club, where food was donated by Shaw’s, before a Coast Guard fly-over and an afternoon tee-off.

“There are 102 people who have played in all five tournaments. By no means is this your ordinary golf tournament,” said Ron Gill, Sr.

Herb Chambers Honda, Herff Jones and Creative Child Inc. are the three main sponsors of the event. They donate $10,000 and a car for a hole in one contest.

This event is coordinated primarily by Ron Gill, Sr. Other events throughout the year have committees, but Ron initially took the tournament one on that first year before there even was a foundation or any committees, and he's taken it on every year since.

At the golf tournament book launch, Cowart and Griffeth sat at a greeting table and signed books for golfers and guests for almost an hour before the dinner started.

In keeping with the ladybug theme, Cowarts whole family was dressed in red and black, and her three daughters decorated guests with ladybug tattoos.

Before the meal was served, Ron Gill, Sr. called upon Cowart to come forward and read the book.

The room fell silent as she read about a special little girl and the ladybug that promised to watch over her. When she finished, there was barely a dry eye in the room, as the crowd erupted into applause.

“I know that this book is going to help adults and children everywhere, and I know also that Ronnie's story and his legacy will truly live on forever in this story,” Cowart said. “I hope that I've made it just a tiny bit easier for the Gills when Gracie asks about her dad.”

To learn more about Cowart and her books, go to www.JENNIFERLCOWART.COM. For more information about the Ron Gill Memorial Foundation, go to www.rongilljr.org.

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