Remembering a hero in Peabody

December 23, 2016

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. hugs Amy Rice, the widow of Peabody Firefighter Jim Rice, after the unveiling of the athletic field that will be named after her late husband.

By LEAH DEARBORN

PEABODY — In honor of fallen firefighter James Rice, the athletic fields at the Higgins Middle School will have a new name.

The announcement was made by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. at City Hall after a brief memorial service at St. John the Baptist Parish, where Rice’s funeral took place five years ago.

“I was fortunate enough to be friends with Jim for a large part of my life,” said Bettencourt, who described Rice as an athlete and a family-oriented man who used to go to the old Higgins fields to kick around a football. “There will be hundreds of thousands of students who play on these fields.”

Rice, who was once a student at Higgins himself, died Dec. 23, 2011 from injuries suffered while fighting a three-alarm house fire on Hancock Street. He was a veteran of the department and a married father of three young children.

“It’s never a good time for something like this to happen,” said Fire Chief Steven Pasdon. “But happening this time of year made it even harder, and it’s made it harder in the years since.”

Pasdon said the majority of the department was able to attend the service thanks to firefighters from neighboring towns volunteering to cover work stations across the city.

Friends and family of Rice were in attendance at the service in addition to members of the city council, school committee and police department.

“He was a great father and a great husband,” said Capt. Jay Dowling, a lifelong friend of Rice’s who worked alongside him. “He is missed every day.”

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Rice’s cousin, Christopher Morfis, described him as being like a brother.

“We grew up together,” said Morfis. “Jim was always the life of the party. He was a very big personality.”

Bettencourt said the dedication of the athletic fields will take place sometime in the coming months.

The mayor said he will be consulting with the Rice family in regards to the exact phrasing of the final name.  

Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.