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A place to remember Conor Donald: Bench brings us closer to him even 10 years on

Conor Donald, who lost his life in an accident on May 12, 2012, and the bench placed in his memory.
Conor Donald, who lost his life in an accident on May 12, 2012, and the bench placed in his memory.

They line Aberdeen’s Esplanade and each memorial bench comes with its own story of love and loss.

As you approach the first bend of Aberdeen’s beachfront road there sits one of more than 60 of these resting places dotted along the pathway from Donmouth to Fittie.

Some of the traditional wooden seats are simply placed because the person memorialised loved or came from the area. However, one is poignantly located at the scene of an accident.

Today we begin a series looking at the stories behind each brass name plaque and the lives and legacies remembered whenever we walk past, or take time to sit down amidst the memories enshrined on beachfront benches.

And we begin with the story of Conor Donald. 

A place to remember him

Ten years ago today, 18-year-old Conor Donald lost his life in the very spot where his bench now sits.

As the teenager drove to work, just two weeks after passing his test, his red Fiat Punto collided with a van.

Memorial bench for Conor Donald placed near to the site where he was involved in an accident.

“I was at home feeding my six-month-old baby daughter when I got the call,” said Leslie Riddel, Conor’s older sister.

“At first all we knew was that there had been an accident. Conor’s friend was driving behind him because they both worked as mechanics for my dad. He called an ambulance and let my dad know.”

The teenager had driven that route on his bike every day for a year.

Pictured just weeks before he died, Conor Donald (18).

But on that day, May 12 2012, as he came round the corner where the bench is, the road was wet.

The car slipped, moving over to the other side of the road, colliding with a Ford Transit Van.

“The next call I got, everything in my life changed. They just said ‘Leslie it’s worse than we thought. He might not make it.'”

Kind-hearted Conor

Conor was born on September 15 1993.

Big brother to Damon Donald and Lucy O’Sullivan as well as being Leslie’s younger sibling, he was described as a happy-go-lucky boy with a heart of gold.

Cheery and kind-hearted, a young Conor Donald.

Conor lived with his dad at Kingseat near Newmachar, and had attended Kingsford Primary School then Hazlehead Academy.

Although he loved football, supporting both Celtic and Chelsea, and had played for Middlefield Wasps, family was everything to him.

Devastating time

On receiving the second call alerting Leslie to how serious Conor’s condition was, she quickly got dressed and made her way to the ARI where her parents were waiting on news.

“I was really close to my brother. There was only a three-year age gap between us so I don’t think I was really taking it all in.

“We were told Conor had a lot of internal bleeding. The plan was to work to stabilise him so they could scan him.

Conor was a doting uncle to Leslie’s daughter Ellie.

“We were there for hours and hours. My baby daughter was really the glue that held us all together that day.”

Sadly, doctors were never able to stabilise Conor.

“I just remember the shock of it. Even though we were there in the hospital and had been prepared for the worst, it was just devastating. It still is really,” Leslie added.

Honouring his wishes

An inquiry had to take place following the accident but a service celebrating Conor’s life took place in Hazlehead Crematorium.

“So many people turned up that they couldn’t get in. My brother had a lot of friends. He was really popular.”

However, despite a funeral Conor had always intimated that he didn’t want anything fancy and expressed a desire to be cremated rather than buried.

The memorial bench and tributes for Conor Donald on Aberdeen Esplanade, not long after his death.

Leslie explained: “He had always joked about, saying ‘just stick me in a cardboard box.’ I mean, it was never going to be that simple – we wanted to make it special still.

“But it was one of the only things we could do for him; it was one of the only things we knew he wanted.”

The family opted for a reinforced cardboard coffin that they had specially painted in grey.

“We then added carbon fibre strips to look like his favourite car – a Shelby GT 500.”

A place of comfort

After Conor died, Leslie and her family had to navigate their grief without a place to go to.

“It took a lot of work and a lot of going back and forward but eventually we had a bench placed on the corner where the accident happened.

A place to remember Conor Donald.

“It’s not morbid to us, it’s actually very comforting and we feel close to him there because that’s the last place he was his usual self. It’s the last place my brother had his life.”

Now Leslie takes her own daughters to the bench to share stories of her brother and to lay flowers on anniversaries.

“Conor was a doting uncle. As soon as I had my first baby he was adamant he would open a bank account for her. She didn’t need anything but he wanted to do that.

Forever missed: a tribute to Conor Donald on Aberdeen Esplanade.

“He was so kind, so thoughtful. A genuine person, you know. The kind of person who was always the voice of reason. Such a happy soul with all his life ahead of him.

“I can’t believe that it really has been 10 years without him. If you see flowers on the bench this month, that’s why.”

  • Do you know the story of one of the many people memorialised by Aberdeen’s benches? Email or complete the form below.

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