A VERY special gorilla will be carried in the Lismore Lantern Parade on Saturday.
Gilbert the Gorilla is a comforter, a mascot and a bedfellow to the little children of the St Andrew's Parish Preschool in Lismore.
He was one of several stuffed toys that comforted a young woman dying of cancer in Lismore Base Hospital two-and-a-half years ago.
Monique Clarke wanted more than anything to work with children. After leaving school, she got her childcare diploma and started work at the Parish Preschool. She loved the children and they loved her. She worked there for three years; but when she was only 21 tragedy struck and she was diagnosed with cancer. Despite a brave fight, she lost her battle at the tender age of 23.
"She was amazingly good at her job," preschool director Pam Briggs told The Echo.
After Monique's death the preschool was given a bunch of toys that had comforted her and Gilbert the gorilla is now treated like royalty.
"He now belongs to everyone and has sleepovers at every child's house, where he is treated as a VIP," Pam explained.
Now Gilbert has been transformed into a two-metre high lantern and the kids were ecstatic to meet him for the first time on Wednesday.
"Oh, he's huge," said one excited voice.
Lantern maker Bec Massey said it was a challenge to turn the much-loved soft toy into a lantern.
"I really enjoyed it though, because of the story behind it," she said.
For a full program of Lantern Festival activities, see page 36.