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Library Receives $5,000 for Reeve Theater Collection

Candace Braun

Two local initiatives will soon be underway at the Princeton Public Library in memory of former Princeton resident Christopher Reeve: a theater arts collection and a lecture series.

Prior to Monday's screening at the library of The Brooke Ellison Story, the last film Christopher Reeve directed, Claire Jacobus, president of the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, announced that the group will be donating $5,000 towards a theater arts collection in honor of Chris. The collection will be found in the first floor quiet room of the library.

The donation seemed an appropriate tribute to Chris, said Ms. Jacobus, because Barbara Johnson, Chris's mother, has been active at the library for many years, and had helped plan the new facility.

"I just know [Chris] would be so very pleased to know we are going to have this," said Ms. Johnson. "I am eager to see it unfold."

In addition, the library has earmarked $500 in its endowment fund to pay for an annual lecture series in memory of Christopher Reeve. While unsure of what the new library series will specifically entail, Library Director Leslie Burger said it will be based on various interests that Chris had throughout his life.

Chris will be remembered in Princeton for the years when he acted at McCarter Theatre and on the big screen in films such as Superman. He took on a different role, however, following the horseback-riding accident in 1995 that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

For many, he will be remembered as an advocate for stem cell research and for inspiring hope for others with spinal cord injuries, said Ms. Burger.

"Chris went on to a second act in his life that greatly impacted all of us," she said, adding that he was "a shining example of how ordinary people can become super heroes."

"We will all miss Chris," she added.

Chris's brother, Benjamin Reeve, took a moment to thank the Princeton community for their ongoing support during the difficult time following Chris's death on October 10 from an infected pressure wound.

"There is a special feeling in my heart towards this town," he said, adding that while many news stories since Chris's death have discussed his heroic contributions to society, it must also be mentioned that Princeton played a key role in encouraging him to become the actor that he was.

Benjamin Reeve recalled how his brother's acting career took off at McCarter Theatre when he starred in plays such as Finian's Rainbow and South Pacific at age 15.

"It's not every place that you can do something like that," he said.

His Last Direction

Following the announcement of the library's dedication to her son, Ms. Johnson introduced The Brooke Ellison Story, an A&E film based on the true story of a girl who suffered a spinal cord injury at age 11, but went on to overcome her disability by attending both high school and college in a regular classroom. Paralyzed from the neck down, she became the first ventilator-dependent quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard University in 2000.

The film particularly focuses on Brooke's relationship with her mother, Jean, who has had to be by her side 24 hours a day since the accident to assist with everything from brushing her teeth, to raising a hand for her in the classroom. It also shows the difficulty faced not only by Brooke, but by her family, as well, because of the many sacrifices they make in order to financially and emotionally support her.

Four years in the making, The Brooke Ellison Story was filmed in July in New Orleans. While the heat was difficult for Chris physically, directing was the best thing he could have done for his spirit, said Ms. Johnson.

"I hadn't heard his voice so strong or so sure since the accident," she said of a conversation she had with him during the filming. "He was in his element ... I wish he had had more time to do his directing because he really had a vision."

Ms. Johnson said that Chris had seen the final version of the film just days before his death, and had been thrilled with the results.

"The real tribute to Chris is the impact he had on those with whom he came into contact," said Chris's wife Dana in a statement distributed at the library event. "He would be so touched to know that the folks from his hometown of Princeton had gathered at his mom's beloved library to share his final professional triumph."

Donations for the Christopher Reeve Theater Arts Collection can be sent to the Friends of the Library, at P.O. Box 422, Princeton, 08542.

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