Taylor and Cindy Bodine had to pick the perfect name for their first-born son.
After a difficult pregnancy, the couple landed on Matthew, Taylor’s middle name. In Hebrew, Matthew means “gift from God.”
And what a gift Matthew was.
On Friday, June 30, Matthew, 18, died in a car crash. He was on his way back to his Winter Garden home after his first week of college at the University of North Florida.
He was returning home for his great-grandmother’s 95th birthday party.
“We’ve just been in awe of the response to this from the people in our lives and from the community,” Cindy Bodine said. “The car accident was my biggest fear, and I’ve had nightmares about if something like this were to happen. … Our lives were blessed beyond our imagination when Matthew was born.”
Matthew was born Oct. 15, 2004, at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women.
He was the eldest son of the Bodines, longtime West Orange County residents. He had one younger brother Luke, 15. The sons owned two dogs, brothers Shadow and Cooper, who they had just added to the family last summer.
Matthew was the grandson of longtime Windermere residents Byron and Norma Sutton, and of Richard and Linda McCree, of Orlando.
From Day 1, Cindy Bodine, said Matthew was a character.
“Some of us don’t know where his personality and traits came from,” she said. “He looked at things in life a little bit differently.”
Matthew made friends with every person he met. He was an infectious personality full of love, joy, kindness, generosity and creativity — with an unwavering spirit.
From an early age, one of the most unique things about Matthew was his ability to strike up mature conversations with adults.
“We would be flabbergasted; he just had no fear,” Cindy Bodine said. “Even when he was a teenager, parents or teachers would message me saying Matthew chose to come and speak with them for an hour or two over going to play with his friends.”
Matthew always had questions about life that spanned beyond his years, which many times his parents and teachers would not know how to answer.
“In kindergarten, Matthew had a Bible lesson, and he raised his hand to ask his teacher a question. … A second later the principal of the school also walked in,” Cindy Bodine said. “He asked if Satan had a mom and a dad. … They responded and told him that Satan did not, and Matthew immediately said, ‘Well that’s probably why he’s Satan.’”
Matthew was a child of many interests and loved to play with cars, trucks, trains and boats. He was also artistic, and would sit and draw designs and architectural concepts for hours.
He collected ships and preferred to analyze pictures of castles and houses or his grandfather’s boating magazines over reading a children’s book.
When he was only 5 years old, Matthew was gifted the LEGO Creator London Tower Bridge Set with more than 4,000 pieces. It was meant for children ages 16 and older. He worked two days straight and built the set by himself.
“When a kid builds a train set, they usually just want to immediately start playing with the train,” Cindy Bodine said. “That was not Matthew. He would get on the floor and try to analyze why the train moved the way it did and figure out how the set worked. He would rearrange the set and change the design to make it more efficient.”
In fifth grade, Matthew accepted Jesus into his life at The Christ School.
Faith played an instrumental part in the way Matthew led his life.
He was deeply involved in his Christian youth group, and his unwavering belief and devotion to his faith brought him joy and gave him strength during challenging times.
Matthew was interested in being an entrepreneur and loved hard labor. He started working at his grandparents’ popcorn business when he was only 12 years old and continued on to work for his family’s company, working for Aquatica Orlando as a lifeguard, before serving as a lifeguard at Discovery Cove as his final employment, which he adored.
In middle school, Matthew went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. He worked so hard he developed costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the sternum, when he returned home.
Matthew also loved to debate, which often sparked fascinating conversations.
“He wasn’t trying to argue with you, but he would spend hours trying to convince you that what he was thinking was right,” Cindy Bodine said. “It wasn’t to say someone else was wrong, but he needed to make sure you understood his point of view.”
Music was Matthew’s passion, and he listened to every genre under the sun. He blasted music in the car, sang in the shower and listened to records. He loved rap, contemporary Christian music and R&B, but he also enjoyed older music from artists like The Beach Boys.
Although Matthew was brilliant, he struggled in school. He had two severe learning disabilities, auditory processing disorder and dyscalculia, which the family did not discover until his junior year in high school.
Matthew dual-enrolled at Valencia Community College and graduated from West Orange High School in May.
He was on the swim team; played volleyball; participated in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps; was the president of the Interact Club for two years; and a camp counselor at RYLA, a youth leadership camp. He completed countless hours of community service with the Rotary Club and many other charities in Central Florida such as the West Orange Junior Service League.
Matthew decided on UNF so he could be near the water and the beach. The water held a special place in his heart, and he associated it with being a place to unwind and find peace. He had plans to work on a boat to learn more about the way they operated.
“He would get so frustrated that he would be in tears, but he never gave up,” Cindy Bodine said. “Even though he was down on himself sometimes, he continued to try, and he still did so crazy well in high school. His last year, he was taking nine classes and he graduated West Orange with approximately 40 college credits. When all of this happened, he was the happiest we had ever seen him. He was so excited to start his next adventure at UNF.”
Matthew loved to travel and knew all about the world. He had plans to further explore as he got older.
TRUE TO HIMSELF
Matthew made new friends everywhere he went.
Being one of the oldest in his grade, he was one of the first to drive and would pick his friends up, take them to their jobs or to their youth group and buy them food.
Matthew had a soft spot for helping people who were going through challenging times, and children would stay at the Bodine home frequently. Recently, Matthew was attempting to convince his parents to adopt one of his friends who was experiencing a trying time.
For Valentine’s Day, when he had a crush on a girl in his class, he worried about hurting others’ feelings by gifting only one person a bouquet of roses. Instead, he chose to give every girl in his class one rose. Every year, the gifts evolved and expanded to involve more people.
Norma Sutton said one of her favorite memories of Matthew is when he visited her the week before he left for school. The two sat and talked for hours.
Because she loved flamingos, Matthew offered to take her to Discovery Cove where they run free. He told her stories of the two baby flamingos, the adult flamingos and the one middle-sized flamingo he deemed a “teenage” flamingo because he walked around causing havoc.
Taylor Bodine said Matthew taught him the importance of being true to yourself.
“We would always joke or make fun of him, but he had such an interesting sense of fashion and he loved it,” he said. “He didn’t care about what people thought about how he looked. He would wear unique outfits and wear his hair in weird ways. He was very comfortable in his own skin. He was just Matthew. He was exactly who he was, and that was it.”
In his first social media post, Luke Bodine said he will never forget his brother.
“Never take a day in your life for granted as tomorrow isn’t promised,” he wrote on Instagram. “Be with your friends and family while they are with us, and be sure to check in with them as much as possible. You never know what someone is going through. I will never forget those long car rides just listening to music and talking about our future. Those days we would fight and I’d hit you a little too hard and I would soon regret it, waking up on Christmas asking if we should go to see what came, always asking for the best advice about a girl or school or whatever it was.”
Luke Bodine said Matthew was always there for him and will never leave his heart.
“Sometimes, life throws a lot at you at once, and we wonder why, but I know God has a plan for you,” he wrote. “I miss you so much and can’t express what I would do to spend one last day with you or even an hour or a minute. You will always be my big brother, and I know I will see you one day to fight one last time. Fly high Matthew, love you always.”
Although Matthew always was worried about his purpose in life, his family knew he would accomplish amazing things and looked forward to seeing where his path in life led him.
Matthew’s perseverance is something Cindy Bodine said will always remain with her.
“Everybody faces challenges, but he was so good at trying to find that joy, trying to find the things he loved, trying to accomplish his goals,” she said. “He had all these dreams and always went for them. Even though everyone has struggles they face in life, he never let his bring him down.”
Matthew’s memory will remain in the hearts of his family, friends and West Orange community.
“We will miss Matthew dearly, and he will never be forgotten because everyone was drawn to his bigger-than-life personality, and once he touched your life, you were forever a changed person,” the family said. “We love you, and we know Heaven is now an even brighter place with Matthew occupying a place with our Lord.”