ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s been 39 years since the Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapsed back in 1980.
Thirty-five people died that day, including 19-year-old John “Chip” Callaway Jr.
His mother, Grace Callaway, lost her son just a few days before Mother’s Day.
John’s friend, Lynnwood Armstrong, who got off the bus one stop before it crossed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, takes it upon himself to call her every year since the accident.
“The barge hit the bridge and the bus went off the bridge,” Lynnwood Armstrong said. “When I saw them pulling up the bodies and the bus later and saw the number on the side of the bus I knew that was the one I got off.”
It’s a moment in time that forever changed Armstrong’s life and so many others.
“After what happened, I called his mom, Mrs. Callaway, and I just told her and she let out a gut-wrenching scream. I’ll never forget that. It just goes to your soul,” Armstrong said.
Knowing he could never take the place of her son John, one of his closest friends, Armstrong took up the task of calling Grace every Mother’s Day since the crash.
“I’ve been doing that for 39 years. I call her every Mother’s Day and every Christmas. It’s just that bond we have. It may seem to strange to others but it’s normal to us,” Armstrong said.
Grace is now 92-years-old and looks forward to those phone calls every year from her pseudo-son. Losing her youngest son pushed her to think about life differently.
“I think losing Chip taught me some things that I never could have known before. People need to know how important it is that you don’t take anything for granted. You don’t know how it feels until it happens to you,” Grace Callaway, John’s mother said.
While Grace and Armstrong will never forget that fateful day, their friendship has kept them strong through the years and has inspired them to be thankful.
“You can’t dwell on what could have been. You just have to live one day at a time, one minute, one second at a time because you just never know what that day comes,” Armstrong said.
After the Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapse, Armstrong went on to work for the Department of Transportation.
While it doesn’t scare him to drive over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge today, every time he does he thinks of John and the other students on the bus who didn’t make it that day.
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