Like the father whose name he shared, Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. was hard to miss.
“He was 6-4, so he had a presence that filled the room right away,” said his sister, Kathy Malone of Watertown.
Similarities ran strong from father to son. The late Edward Walsh Sr. also stood a couple of inches taller than 6 feet and “had a tremendous influence on Eddie’s life,” Kathy said. “They were almost one and the same, looking back right now.”
Both were fire lieutenants: the father in Watertown, the son in Boston. Lieutenant Walsh and his father were “big guys, quiet guys, behind-the-scenes kind of guys who didn’t want acknowledgment for anything,” Kathy said, and “that’s the strange thing about what’s happening now.”
The attention showered on Lieutenant Walsh after he died last Wednesday fighting a nine-alarm fire in the Back Bay is the last thing he would have sought. “When he was on the job, Eddie would have been the first to walk away from the cameras,” his sister said. “He didn’t want any acknowledgment. It was his job and that’s what he did. My Dad was the same way.”
It was the same way for all Lieutenant Walsh’s 43 years, in all parts of his life.
“He was my little brother, but not really,” Kathy said. “I’m the oldest, but everybody always thought Eddie was the oldest because of how tall he was and because he always took charge of everything.”
While growing up, Lieutenant Walsh traveled each summer to the boys camp his grandparents had started at Pleasant Lake in Island Falls, Maine. His mother, the former Joanie McAuliffe, worked in the school system and spent the summer break there with Lieutenant Walsh, Kathy, and their younger brother, Michael, who lives in Watertown.
Lieutenant Walsh learned to golf at the Va Jo Wa Golf Course, which also was next to the lake, and earned money a couple of years by plucking rocks from the soil when the course expanded to add holes. He also honed his skills at friendship. Lieutenant Walsh was known as Edzo to friends, and he had many from each niche of his life.
“He still hung around with a large group of guys he went to high school with, and to elementary school,” his sister said. “He maintained friendships that he had up in Maine through the years, too. Eddie had so many different inner circles it was amazing, and he was still very close with all of them.”
In high school, he played baseball and golf. Baseball gave way to softball in adulthood, but his strong arm never lost its zing. The same was true of his golf swing, which rocketed long powerful drives.
He graduated from Watertown High School in 1989 and received a Lieutenant Paul J. Sullivan college scholarship, named for a resident killed in the Vietnam War. In a show of gratitude, Lieutenant Walsh served several years on the board that interviewed students who applied for the scholarship, and over the years he volunteered at the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton and for other organizations.
At what is now Bridgewater State University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he studied business and finance, forged a new circle of friends, and juggled jobs and classes.
After college he lived in Brighton and worked for CareMatrix, an assisted living provider based in Needham. It was there he met Kristen George, another employee with whom he shared “a tremendous love of life and having fun,” his sister said.
Lieutenant Walsh married Kristen in 2004. “Both great personalities, both very strong,” Kathy said. “Through this thing, I’ve never seen anyone so strong as she is.”
Kristen and Eddie Walsh moved several years ago to West Roxbury, where he offered assistance to any neighbor on any project, a habit he acquired as a boy.
“He was very close with my Dad in the sense of trying to walk in his footsteps,” Kathy said. “My Dad was very good at everything, you’d say a jack-of-all-trades, and Eddie was, too.”
Lieutenant Walsh and his wife had three children: Dillon Edward Walsh is 8, Morgan Kathleen Walsh is 5, and Griffin William Walsh will turn 3 next month.
Kathy said her brother coached Dillon’s and Morgan’s sports teams and “just loved being a dad. The most important thing in his life would be his family. You could see it on his face when he looked at them, the sparkle that would come into his eyes.”
The Fire Department placed a none-too-distant second in his affections, however, and firefighters filled his family tree. Along with Lieutenant Walsh’s father, his relatives who serve or served as firefighters include uncles, cousins, and a brother-in-law.
Being a firefighter “meant everything to him,” Kathy said. “In many respects, you’d think that was what he talked about all the time.”
At first, he worked out of the Back Bay and “was so proud when he got on the job that he was assigned to one of the busiest houses in the city,” his sister said.
Their mother would worry about the dangerous calls, but “he wasn’t afraid,” Kathy added. “He’d just brush it off: ‘Awww, it’s not a big deal.’ He had a perfect smile and a great sense of humor. A lot of that job is not pretty. And he was able to continue to walk around with a smile on his face.”
Assignments moved Lieutenant Walsh to different stations after he was promoted a couple of years ago, and he “was happy to work with them, but he needed to get back to his other home, and his other home was the Boylston Street firehouse,” his sister said.
A funeral Mass will be said for Lieutenant Walsh at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Patrick Church in Watertown.
“There are so many words to try to capture all he did,” his sister said, “and no words that would do him justice.”