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One Year Later: Newton Fire Victim Reflects on Life After Tragedy

On Feb. 21, 2011, a four-alarm fire tore through a home on Waverley Avenue in Newton Corner. One of the fire's survivors, Belynda Bady, looks back on the year since she lost her home, her possessions and one of her closest friends.

Just one year ago, a picturesque Victorian house stood on the lot at 56 Waverley Ave., its detailed trim and windowpanes highlighting the distinguished character of the 140-year-old home. 

Today, little remains of the historic property; a carefully laid stone walkway leads up from the sidewalk to an empty dirt lot, and a small sign with a carved "56-58" remains staked in the ground as if paying homage to the former home.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 21, 2011, a four-alarm fire ravaged the historic Newton Corner home at 56 Waverley Ave., taking the life of 63-year-old Beth Deare. 

Twelve months after that tragic fire, former tenant Belynda Bady says she has been able to find some "clarity" around the death of her housemate, a tragedy that left her in shock for months after the fire. 

"You think you're prepared for death...but you never prepare for this type of shock," Bady says.

Bady and her young son Trevor lived with Deare on the second and third floors of the Waverley Avenue home. The three of them—a family—shared that space for just over two years.

The morning the fire broke out, Bady says she woke up to find a voicemail from her niece telling her the house was on fire. Bady had been away with her son and Bady’s niece was staying at the Waverley Avenue home with Deare.

Deare, who had just started a second battle with cancer, was an award-winning PBS producer, associate professor at Bunker Hill Community College and an integral part of Bady's life.

Bady admits that she not only had to face the reality of Deare's death, but also the circumstances surrounding the fire. In the days following the blaze,  the state fire marshal declared the cause as being linked to "the improper use or extinguishing of smoking materials" in Deare's bedroom. 

"I have had to come to terms with choices that [Deare] made that have been very hard for me to understand," Bady says. "I miss her, I wish she were here, I wish she had survived because she was a good person. But she made some bad choices, I think."

But Bady is not the only one who has to come to terms with these realities. Her son Trevor, now 8, realizes that his life has changed because of the fire and Deare's decision to smoke.

Now living in Belmont, Bady says it took some time for her son to adjust to his new life outside of the Waverley Avenue home. In the months following the fire he would often ask about old neighbors, the house and of course, his Aunt Beth.

Bady says her son talks about "the wonderful things" the small family shared on Waverley Avenue, like the times they would cook together or when Deare would make up songs and sing to Trevor. 

Just the other day, Trevor started singing one of Deare's songs, Bady says.

"She has taught him some things that will last him a lifetime," she says.

Although they live in Belmont, Bady says Newton "still feels like home" for her and her son. Trevor continues to study at  The Fessenden School in West Newton, where he was given a full scholarship to attend this year. 

In addition to that financial support from the Fessenden community, Bady says she is also thankful for the support of Harvard University, where she works as the director of administration in the Economics Department. 

The outreach from her colleagues, community and Newton neighbors—from donated clothes to hot meals—turned a very tragic time into one that was also very "uplifting."

"The outpouring of support was just amazing," Bady says. "They continue to leave me feeling very protected and taken care of."

Despite a new home and a year gone by since the fire, Bady's life on Waverley Avenue was an unfinished chapter for many months. She recalls driving by the house's charred remains from time to time, still able to see her furniture on the back deck. 

But a few weeks ago, Bady received a number of calls from her neighbors and friends. The house had been demolished.

"I let [Deare's] family know that it had been demolished and we had a little silent prayer and cried," Bady says. "There is something reassuring about the structure still being there, in perpetuity. It's like a museum; the people, the things, [and] the life are still kind of frozen in time."

"In many ways, in my own mind, it kept it alive," Bady says. "When it was all gone it was very final."

On Tuesday, Bady says she marked the anniversary of the fire by writing down her thoughts in a journal and sharing a prayer with one of her close friends.

This last year has been "a humbling experience," Bady says, and has landed her in a place where she feels fortunate for what she has.

"It's been a day of remembrance -- remembering what happened and remembering Beth and being OK with where we are," Bady says. "As much as there was lost, there was a lot found."

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