Jeff Downer, right, with his two children, Sam, left, and Lucy, in front of the “Little Free Library,” installed in honor of the late Tracy Downer.
Jeff Downer, right, with his two children, Sam, left, and Lucy, in front of the “Little Free Library,” installed in honor of the late Tracy Downer.

By H.M. Cauley

Mother’s Day had a poignant air in the Collier Hills neighborhood this year. At a late-afternoon gathering of residents, the community’s Louise G. Howard pocket park welcomed two new features in the memory of a local mother who was killed in a car wreck two years ago.

On May 11, family, friends and neighbors of the late Tracy Downer dedicated a park pavilion in her name. And to remember her dedication as the mother of two, they also raised donations to install a “Little Free Library,” a box stocked with donated books for adults and children to share and swap.

The memorial grew out of the community’s desire to remember Downer, who died at age 44 in a car crash in July 2012, as not only a mother, but as a good neighbor and active member of the local Greystone Garden Club.

“Tracy was the sweetest, most giving person,” recalled Melissa Libby, a neighbor who spearheaded the drive to erect a book box. “Her death was tragic and unnecessary, and she left behind two little kids and a husband. We wanted to do something to honor her. We just never realized it would take two years.”

As one of the Buckhead communities bordering the Beltline, Collier Hills has had the chance to incorporate several small parks across the neighborhood. Part of the Howard site, near the intersection of Overbrook Drive and Collier Road, lent itself to a pavilion, a picnic table, a bench, and colorful landscaping installed by volunteers.

“We thought it would be a great place that would attract people, so we put together a committee of neighbors, and we agreed it was a perfect spot,” said Libby, who also uncovered the idea of the lending library. “The Little Free Library lets anyone donate a book, so we’re asking people to donate new or gently-used children or adult books. If someone is looking for a good book, they can take one out and don’t even have to return it. It’s just a free library with no rules.”

A “Love Your Block” grant from the mayor’s office covered the cost of painting and installing the library box, which is now one of about 50 such lending sites around the city. As the library’s steward, Libby will be monitoring it and hopes to keep an online list of titles.

Members of the garden club will maintain the landscaping they helped design and install, said neighbor Joan Hodge. The club also helped upgrade the pavilion and plantings.

“At time of Tracy’s death, there was a pavilion planned, but then there were cutbacks, so we raised money to do a cedar shake roof, the pavers and the landscaping around it,” said Hodge. “We as a club also donated money and volunteer hours. We even had some of Tracy’s close friends who don’t live in the neighborhood help out with the landscaping. It really was a wide community effort, and now it’s a very neat thing to have.”