Lt. Edward Walsh Jr. recalled as ‘a born leader’
WATERTOWN — Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh, killed last week in a raging fire in Boston’s Back Bay section, was mourned today in a funeral ceremony attended by a throng of people, including top elected officials and thousands of his fellow firefighters.
He was remembered as a straight-talking leader who had achieved a long-time dream of joining his family’s firefighting tradition and, rather than taking a desk job, sought to lead firefighters in action. He was also remembered as dedicated to his wife and three small children and his community.
“If the timekeeper of life kept track, he may have noticed that this man, in fact, has lived a full life. He lived more in 43 years than many of us will do in 80,” his sister, Kathy Malone, said in a tribute delivered during the ceremony at St. Patrick’s Church.
“He was a standup guy. .. He had a calling to help others,” she said.
“Let’s model ourselves after Eddie,” she said. Take care of people ... make time for one another and enjoy the company of family and friends.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Walsh was “a rock at the center of many lives.”
“He put himself in harm’s way so that we might be safe. He is a true hero,” said the mayor, who is not related to the firefighter. “He lived his life protecting and supporting his community.”
Fire Lieutenant Walsh’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Church came a week after he and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy died in a wind-fueled inferno in a brownstone on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay section.
Kennedy’s wake is also being held today and his funeral is tomorrow. More than 10,000 firefighters from around the nation have come to pay their respects to the two men, Boston fire officials said.
The funeral was full of tradition, with Walsh’s brother, Michael carrying his Engine 33 helmet as he walked in front of the engine that bore his brother’s flag-draped casket to the church. A phalanx of bagpipes and drummers played, and an honor guard carried flags, while thousands of firefighters saluted in their dress uniforms. At the end of the ceremony, a silver bell, next to Edward Walsh’s helmet, was rung for a final time.
Malone, Walsh’s sister, said that, while he was her little brother, there was “nothing little about him.”
At 6-foot-4, he could be intimidating when he walked in a room, she said, “but Eddie was only intimidating in size. He had a terrific smile and a wonderful sense of humor.”
“Eddie knew his stuff and he was a born leader,” she said.
She said that in addition to his work as a firefighter and spending time with his family he was active volunteering for a foundation and the Franciscan Hospital for Children.
“He led by example in all aspects of his life,” she said.
The Reverend John Unni, who delivered the homily, said Walsh was “a gentle giant.”
Stepping down from the church’s podium, he spoke from next to Walsh’s white-draped casket, reassuring Walsh’s three small children that their father was in heaven.
He recalled his own father dying when he was young and being told that he was in heaven.
“You know what? All these years later I still remember that. ... I know your dad was a firefighter. My dad was a barber. Your father had short hair — maybe he’s going to keep him in business, huh?” said Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia Church, which is near the Boylston Street fire station where Walsh worked.
He also said he told a lot of stories about his father and told the children, “I want you guys to do the same thing, too. It’ll heal you, it’ll strengthen your heart.”
Unni, in his down-to-earth remarks, also urged firefighters in the audience, who were ordered out of the building after it was deemed unsafe to try to rescue the two firefighters, to be “as gentle as you can with yourselves.”
“Know you were where you were supposed to be, doing the things you were supposed to do. Sometimes things just go in a different way,” he said.
Reverend Robert Casey, a fire department chaplain, said the ceremony was a time to mourn Walsh, but “we also come today to celebrate his life. We celebrate his life in the memories that you keep.”
Addressing Walsh’s family, he said, “All of us are gathered here in this church and the many thousands outside – we are here for you, hoping our presence and our prayers will somehow lessen the loss.”
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, delivering the closing words at the ceremony, said, “This is a man who made a gift of himself to his God, his family, his community. His life was a great success, and we are grateful for it.”
Before the funeral, Engine 33, carrying Walsh’s casket, and its firehouse partner, Ladder 15, drove under an enormous American flag hanging from two other ladder trucks extended over the street as it approached the church.
The gathered crowd had waited in a hush, venturing only to talk in whispers. The casket was lifted from the top of the engine and carried into the church shortly after 10:30 a.m. The service began about a half-hour later.
The firefighters standing stockstill on Main Street in their dress uniforms had come from across the nation, from South Carolina, Ohio, New Hampshire, California, Rhode Island, and Connecticut — to name a few. Most wore a small black shroud covering their firefighter badges.
Toledo, Ohio, Fire Chief Louis Santiago was among those attending, leading a contingent of about 20 people. Toledo recently lost two of its own firefighters.
“We just went through this unfortunate situation ourselves, and we have a new appreciation for what it means to have that kind of support from other departments. We thought it was very important. We’re here with a contingent of approximately 20 people, and we came to support Boston,” he said.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “This is a very proud profession. This is what we do. So it might be a very special thing to people that aren’t used to seeing something like this, but in this profession we understand why it’s happening and why it’s appropriate.”
Dignitaries attending included Governor Deval Patrick and District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. As he stood outside the church, Mayor Walsh was flanked by firefighters, including one with a bandage on his head.
Kennedy’s wake is from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the P.E. Murray Funeral Home on Centre Street in West Roxbury. His funeral is at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Holy Name Church in West Roxbury.
Globe correspondent Catalina Gaitan contributed to this report.