He was known as a doting father at a West Roxbury community center. He regularly shot baskets with his oldest son at the Holy Name Parish School, a bedrock of the neighborhood. He played ball with his children in the summer months and built snowmen in the winter.
West Roxbury is home to countless police officers and firefighters, and Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. was a neighborhood cheerleader among them, a regular presence who was quick to barbecue or help coach a Little League team.
“If he wasn’t working, he was playing with his kids,” said Jennifer Shaw, 47, a neighbor.
Walsh, 43, a father of three, was also a respected firefighter, who followed in the footsteps of his late father and uncle, veterans of the Watertown Fire Department.
“He was not somebody to sit around and wait for things to happen,” said Fire Lieutenant LeRoi Rodriguez, who worked the same shift at the West Roxbury firehouse on Centre Street while Walsh was stationed there last year.
It is the same station that lost two firefighters in 2007, when a grease fire at the Tai Ho restaurant morphed into an inferno and enveloped the neighborhood in sadness.
On Thursday, that despair descended again, and the community closed ranks, protecting the Walsh family from media attention, congregating at Holy Name, dropping bunches of flowers at the mouth of the fire station’s Centre Street driveway.
“Next week will be the hardest,” Rodriguez said. “The funerals. The bagpipes get going. . . . It’s really tough.
“You work side-by-side with these personalities that make up the character of the station. And then they’re gone,” he said.
Walsh, 43, and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, a 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran, were trapped in a basement and killed Wednesday responding to a blaze on Beacon Street.
Few were surprised that Walsh was among the first to rush into a burning building.
“It sounds clichéd, but he wanted to be a firefighter, he had it together, he knew what he was doing,” said Tom Biondo, a firefighter from Belmont who grew up with Walsh in Watertown and was with him just a week before St. Patrick’s Day, with other childhood friends, at a pub.
Walsh, he said, was the glue that kept old friends in touch.
“He was the one who got us to spend time together,” Biondo said. “We had a close group of friends. We stuck together.”
After graduating from Watertown High School in 1989, Walsh worked side jobs for a while and attended Bridgewater State University. He later worked in finance, but he longed to become a firefighter.
In 2003, after he scored 99 of 100 on a civil service exam, but before he was hired, Walsh joined a group of five white firefighters in a federal lawsuit that charged that they were discriminated against by a city hiring policy that favored minorities. The group settled with the city, and Walsh ultimately joined the department.
“He had this intensity about him, in terms of what he wanted to do,” said Edward C. Cooley, a Quincy-based lawyer who represented the firefighters. “He was knocking on the door, he was just so committed to the idea.”
Walsh was initially based at the Back Bay firehouse until he was promoted to lieutenant in April 2012 and took assignments around the city, including the one at the West Roxbury station, less than a mile from his home. He returned to the Back Bay firehouse as soon as he could and served on Engine 33, the city’s second-busiest, said Steve MacDonald, the department spokesman.
“What Eddie did is he went, worked the circuit, worked at different firehouses, but his goal was always to get back to that firehouse,” said MacDonald, who was close friends with Walsh.
He was a firefighter’s kind of firefighter, too, his colleagues said. He seemed to get along with anyone and loved to take the reins back in the West Roxbury kitchen, occasionally experimenting with peppers and curry a little too much, Rodriguez joked.
But he loved his time outside the firehouse, too. Friends on Wednesday repeatedly described him as having “a cannon for an arm” in softball games and begrudgingly acknowledged that could crush a golf ball.
John M. Tobin, a former city councilor whose son attends school with Walsh’s oldest son at Holy Name, said the mood there was downcast Thursday.
More parents than normal came to pick up their children. The school sent out notices alerting them to the tragedy, but it seemed by Thursday afternoon, most already knew. News travels fast in a neighborhood packed with first responders.
The neighborhood, Tobin said, has always had “its own small-town feel to it, and it is never more evident than in times like this,” Tobin said. “It’s not fair, it’s really not fair.”