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Mourners gather to honor retired Boston school principal killed in collision with utility truck

A vigil was held in Wednesday night for Virginia Chalmers outside her home in Dorchester.
A vigil was held in Wednesday night for Virginia Chalmers outside her home in Dorchester.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Wearing face masks and heavy coats, they filled the sidewalk and spilled onto the narrow one-way street. Some spread apart to socially distance, while others clung to loved ones as they prayed and sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amazing Grace.”

They came to honor Virginia “Jinny” Chalmers, 70, a beloved retired Boston Public Schools principal, who was fatally struck Tuesday by an Eversource utility truck in Milton as she rode her bicycle. She was the longtime principal at Young Achievers K-8 Pilot School.

About 100 educators, former students, and friends gathered Wednesday night for a candlelit vigil outside the white clapboard home in Dorchester that Chalmers shared with her wife, Ilene Carver, an organizer for the Boston Teachers Union.

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“Ms. Chalmers was the heart of Young Achievers,” said Aketa Narang, 46, who said Chalmers had recruited her to teach at the Mattapan school about nine years ago. “She was a symbol of social justice . . . It was always about going back to what was best for our students and fighting for them, fighting for their families, fighting for teachers of color. And that’s what brought everyone to her, that mission.”

Chalmers was riding her bicycle Tuesday afternoon when she was struck by the utility truck.

The initial investigation, State Police said, indicates the truck was traveling northbound around 3 p.m. on Blue Hills Parkway when it turned right onto Eliot Street, where it “made contact” with Chalmers, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

The crash remains under investigation. No charges had been announced against the truck driver Wednesday night, whom troopers identified only as a 62-year-old man. He was taken to a hospital following the crash, State Police said. His condition wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday.

Eversource on Wednesday issued a statement saying that it was cooperating with investigators and expressing condolences to Chalmers’ family.

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“Our deepest and most sincere condolences go out to Ms. Chalmers’ loved ones during this exceptionally difficult time,” the statement said.

News of Chalmers’ death stunned staff at the Boston Public Schools and the teachers union.

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius extended her sympathy to Chalmers’ family in a letter to the staff.

“Jinny was not only a cherished Principal, she was a leader of leaders, a fierce advocate for students and families, and a mentor and friend to many of us. She was part of our BPS family, " Cassellius wrote.

The union said in a statement that it was “deeply devastated and heartbroken.” Carver, the statement said, “appreciates all of the messages and gestures of love.”

That love was evident outside the couple’s front door Wednesday night.

Virginia Chalmers's spouse, Ilene Carver, watched the vigil from the front porch of the house.
Virginia Chalmers's spouse, Ilene Carver, watched the vigil from the front porch of the house. Jim Davis/Globe Staff


Narang said recalled Chalmers had a “famous” pink floral-print chair in her office where teachers came to have a good cry, or announce an engagement, or share concerns about a struggling student. New mothers sometimes used the chair to pump breast milk, she said.

Chalmers sat her down in that chair when Narang herself was the mother of a 2-month-old and asked her to teach at the school. When Narang said she wasn’t sure she could handle returning to work with an infant at home, Chalmers said they would make it work. And they did.

Whenever anyone needed encouragement, Narang said, Chalmers would tell them, “Keep the faith.”

“She would also say, ‘The work is not done,’ ” she added. “We have to keep going.”

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Jaiar Saintis, one of her former students at Young Achievers, said Chalmers . . .” always wanted to see everyone do their best no matter how they were struggling.”

He spoke by telephone, as he walked home from the vigil. He recalled the time when in 8th grade, he had a bad day at school and missed the bus home. Chalmers drove him home, consoling him along the way.

“I would never expect a principal to go out of their way,” he said. “She just drove me home.”

She made school a safe, inclusive place for all students, he said.

“She never wanted anybody to feel left out,” he said. “She wants to make everything inclusive.”

Abby Rodriguez, 44, family engagement coordinator at Young Achievers, carried a bouquet of pink and white carnations and roses. She said she began working with Chalmers more than two decades ago.

“She gave me an opportunity. She gave a lot of us our first opportunity in the education world,” Rodriguez said, adding that Chalmers was a “very powerful leader, mentor, provided a lot of guidance to us, gave us a lot of access to resources and opportunities.”

“Once you joined Young Achievers, you were part of the family — we called it ‘the YA Mafia,’ ” she said with a chuckle. “She made our school feel like a community. It always felt like a very supportive environment to work in. We felt supported by her all the time, as a leader.”

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Carver stood on the porch during the vigil, huddled with her adult son and daughter. After the prayer, she thanked the crowd for supporting her, and they responded with their own words of appreciation.

“Thank you for sharing her with us,” one woman in the crowd called out. “We appreciate that.”

Travis Andersen and John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.