These NP crossing guards are lifelong friends

These NP crossing guards are lifelong friends

Susan Furtado, left, and Debi Thornley, pictured here in Thornley’s North Providence yard, have been friends for 53 years since they were stuck in the school gym together. Today they work as crossing guards in North Providence. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Debi Thornley and Susan Furtado met each other 53 years ago this month, instantly disliking each other due to their shared experience of being the last two students left in the gym at Aldridge Jr. High School in Warwick after everyone else had been called to their classrooms during the first two days of 7th grade.

Neither still has a clear answer on why everyone else was called and they were left sitting alone in the gym for two full days, but they sure are happy it happened.

“I believe things happen for a reason,” says Thornley.

As fate would have it, the two, now both in their mid-60s, ended up in every class together that year following the agitation of the first two days, becoming fast friends, and while many people forget their childhood friends or grow apart, they’ve only grown closer.

“We never let anyone come between us,” said Furtado.

After sharing nearly every major life event and trial and tribulation together since 1968, including being in each other’s weddings, the friends are now crossing guards together in North Providence, helping students who are almost the age they were during those traumatic early days feel comfortable as they come back to school after the pandemic.

Thornley, who lives near Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence, serves as a crossing guard at Whelan Elementary School on Mineral Spring Avenue, and Furtado, of Warwick, is a crossing guard at McGuire Elementary School.

“It’s like a drag race over there,” said Thornley, though she noted that crossing guards aren’t allowed to yell at drivers.

In spots where there are no traffic lights, crossing guards are the lights, said Furtado and Thornley.

“There is no light, and the parents trust you,” said Thornley. “To get the parents to trust you with their kids, to me it’s a big deal.”

Thornley has been a crossing guard for seven years, and she helped Furtado get the same job four years ago after Furtado was laid off.

“I have to keep an eye on her,” said Thornley, laughing.

Furtado, the godmother of Thornley’s children, said she and her best friend have had few disagreements over the years, but “nothing to say I don’t want you to be my friend anymore,” she said. They’ve always had so much in common, she said.

Thornley suffers from a rare autoimmune disease, and Furtado is there to help her through the long days.

When Furtado got sick in 2016 after not taking care of herself following her husband’s death, suffering from the flu and kidney disease, among other issues, she was in a coma in the hospital for five days, and Thornley was at her house every day making sure things were in order, even cleaning out the basement after it flooded and staying as late as 1 a.m.

“That’s a friend,” said Furtado.

Furtado recalls how her brothers told the doctors to call “our sister Debi” because Thornley knew everything about her and she would have the answers related to her health.

“If one of isn’t feeling good, if something’s off, we’re there. What’s good is we’re always there for each other,” said Thornley.

“It’s always been that way,” said Furtado.

While their younger years saw plenty of bowling or clubbing, the two spend their days now relaxing next to Thornley’s in-ground pool in North Providence. Thornley laughed as she described how she’ll come home from her second job and find Furtado in the pool already.

Upcoming holidays will again be spent together, just as always, including Christmas shopping.

After these 1974 Pilgrim High School graduates got married to their husbands, the two went their separate ways for a while. One day, a few years later, when Thornley was working private medical duty, she happened to drive by Furtado’s house and saw her friend’s husband cutting the grass. Furtado still vividly remembers hearing that voice again and jumping to see her friend. After that moment, said the friends, they weren’t about to let that much time come between them again.