It’s often said you only get one chance in life, but for Hallie Geier, life has continued in very profound and meaningful ways despite being robbed of hers at age 11. And now, nearly 14 years after her passing, the best may yet be to come.
Hallie Geier was killed after being accidentally struck by an SUV outside her home in the western Queens, New York community of Sunnyside on May 15, 2004 in a tragedy that not only rocked the close-knit neighborhood, but gained national attention as well.
Hallie’s father Ted Geier recalled the fateful moments following his daughter’s late afternoon death: “I looked at my wife Sofia, and we wondered about what we were going to become.
“I said, ‘Are we going to be professional mourners the rest of our lives.?'”
Far from it. In the days following Hallie’s funeral, the family, including Hallie’s older sister M.J., discovered Hallie left little miracles around the house.
“She left more than a thousand pieces of writing, of art, most of which we had never seen,” Ted tells Highlight Hollywood. “She wrote about how much she loved life, but she also wrote about what she would miss if she died.
“More than anything, Hallie wrote about what she hoped the world to be, imploring people to be nice to each other.”
And to the family’s surprise, they also discovered Hallie had harbored a cache of $398, from savings and leftover lunch money, which she had planned to donate to help children suffering from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
Months following her death, Oprah Winfrey invited the Geier family to reunite with the driver of the SUV for a taping of the Oprah Winfrey Show. While the episode stirred with emotion – the driver was not responsible for the accident – the Geiers surprised Oprah by bringing along that $398 Hallie had saved, believing Oprah would know how best to use that money.
“Oprah was in tears,” Ted recalled. And two years later, Winfrey invited the family back onto her program to show the Geiers what she had done with the money. Oprah took Hallie’s money, and of course, much of her own, to renovate a shelter for abused street children in South Africa, which she named “The Hallie Dorm,” featuring some of Hallie’s inspirational writers painted onto its walls.
By that time, The Geier family had already launched the LOVE, HALLIE Foundation, a nonprofit group that has now reached millions through national campaigns to help the poorest of the world’s children. And, feeding on Hallie’s inspiration, uses its youth-action arm Hallie’s Angels to enable kids in learning how they can get involved to make a difference in the world.
And the group’s most artistic, ambitious project is set to take flight. The family has worked with Grammy-winning music producer Steve Addabbo to create a rock opera of a kind – designed to tell Hallie’s story, expose her ideals and help other families find way to process their own personal grief.
The album, titled “Carpe Diem” – seize the day – is slated to be released later this year, and features Hallie’s writings and songs based on those writings, along with narratives about Hallie’s life and death, and the work she continues to inspire long after her death.
And in a twist, legendary actress Barbara Feldon of Get Smart fame lent her voice in reading Hallie’s words for the album project. It seemed a novel choice: a noted, 85-year-old actress reading the words of Hallie, some of which she wrote as early as age 6.
But Feldon tells Highlight Hollywood the reading assignment fit her like hand to glove.
“There are feelings that are universal, that are ageless, that cross all boundaries,” Feldon says. “She expressed herself in a way I could not have at her age, but I just felt very akin to her.
“There are so many startling things about her writing, but what really shines through is her love of life, her enthusiasm toward each and every day. But at the same time, there are a couple of poems that in view of her death, seem prescient, as if she seemed to be predicting it.
“The hardest part reading it was realizing that she wanted to be a writer so badly. In fact, she was a marvelous writer, and I think about what she might have written had she lived. I was honored to be asked to do this.”
Ted Geier says that along with an album, the Carpe Diem project will also become a book and a video series featuring Hallie’s writings, life story, and the impact she continues to make on the world – that work as already been chronicled on an HBO film, work in conjunction with the NelsonMandela Foundation, and the White House Summit on Malaria.
In addition, LOVE, HALLIE is currently working on establishing a Hallie-based center in NYC’s Time Square called A Better World, showing all, but especially children, how to foster empathy and learn to make meaningful contributions to a better world.
But the Carpe Diem project is an particularly artistic labor of love. Addabbo, who helped foster the career of renowned folk singer Suzanne Vega, recalled being behind his sound board as Ted Geier recorded a spoken-word track for the album describing the day Hallie died.
“It was just incredible,” Addabbo tells Highlight Hollywood. “I’m trying to keep it together at the board while Ted is trying to keep it together in the booth. I have witnessed many things in my record studio but I don’t think I’ve had anything that hit me that deeply.”
Several of the musical numbers on the album are sung by Hallie’s big sis by three years M.J., an accomplished singer and performer in her adult life.
“Not only for myself and Sofia, but I believe it’s been very good for M.J. to continue to have these projects and this work with the foundation as an outlet for her emotions,” Ted says. “She and Hallie slept in bunk beds, and they would reach out and hold hands as they went to sleep.
“She certainly felt Hallie’s loss in a way that was different, and maybe even more profound, than us.”
And as the album readies for release, Ted tells Highlight Hollywood there is no ending to the work they do in the world that keeps Hallie’s memory alive.
“You know, I look back on all we’ve accomplished,” Ted says. “I think, ‘Hallie, you’ve done all this, I could never, ever have done all this.’
“It’s just so important to remember who she was, and finding a way to joyously be a father while missing her every day.
“And really, her spirit is with us every day. My hope is, I have not spent my last minutes with Hallie.”
Written By: Roger Hitts, (Roger Hitts is a two-time United Press International columnist of the year whose writing appears in a host of national and international publications. He lives in New York City with his wife Daphna Inbar and their daughter, Liana.)
Photographs are Courtesy: Geier Foundation
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