May 7, 2011

Red's Town Turned Out

The casket of Chester Fire Chief Red Dolloff was taken to Great Hill Cemetery yesterday with an escort of firefighters, pulled in a horse-drawn wagon down Chester Street.
Union Leader Correspondent
Ben Clark holds a photo of himself
with Red Dolloff, circa 1989.
CHESTER -- IT WAS ONLY FITTING that the four main arteries leading into the heart of town were deliberately blocked yesterday for the horse-drawn wagon carrying Red Dolloff’s casket.
Two golden Belgians clopped their way up Chester Road, flanked by firefighters who walked slowly to the sound of harness chains jangling and feet marching in time, toward Great Hill Cemetery.

“The town will never be the same without him,” said resident Jackie Brown, one of the hundreds who turned out for Raymond Dolloff’s funeral Friday at Chester Congregational
Church. To everyone he was simply “Red,” the longtime fire chief and town fixture, known for riding his backhoe to fires. Dolloff died at home Sunday. He was 75.
When the 911 went out Sunday for 18 Webster Lane, Chester Deputy Fire Chief Mike Willinsky answered the call.

“I wasn’t the only one. People just
 showed up when they saw there was something wrong at Red’s house — not just firefighters, but people from all over town,” Willinsky said.

Barbara Dolloff with funeral director Craig Peabody
telling her it's time to go to the cemetery.
Which was only fitting, since “Red” was the guy who was always there whenever anyone needed anything, Willinsky said. “Red had such a history here. He knew things. Addresses would confuse other guys, but if someone needed help at the first house past the old goat farm, Red knew just where to go,” Willinsky said.
He removed his uniform cap for a moment and turned it upside down. Tucked inside a clear plastic sleeve was a prayer card from Dolloff’s wake.
“Firefighter tradition, Willinsky said. “Talk to Ben. He has a photo in his pocket you might want to see,” said Willinsky.
Sure enough, Ben Clark, 22, reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out an old photo of
 a boy in the driver’s seat of Engine 1. The man to his left, who’d lifted him up — who had spent his whole life lifting everyone in this town up — was Dolloff.
“I was 4 in this photo.
That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” said Clark, who has been a firefighter for five years.
“Before I was born there was a fire at my parents’ house.
They credit him with saving it, and they became great friends after that. I heard that story over and over growing up, and figured if someone could have that kind of impact on someone else’s life, then that’s what I wanted to do.
His wasn’t the only story of how a crusty old marshmallow of a man with a powerful work ethic invested his heart of gold in this town, making everyone richer for having known him.
“I was about 8 when we moved to town, and to the
 best of my knowledge, Red owned the town and the rest of us just lived in it,” said Matthew Camillieri, who spoke during Friday’s funeral service.
“The most important lesson I took away from Red was to always show up ready to work, whether you’re 8 or 28.
If you were gong to show up and stare at the hole he was digging, he had no use for you. If you got in there next to him and started digging, you’d get along just fine,” Camillieri said.
His widow, Barbara Dolloff, said she has been enveloped by family and friends since Sunday. She met her future husband in town shortly after he returned from a stint in the Army. They would have been married 50 years in July. On Friday she clutched two packs of tissues as she laughed and cried her way through the crowd. She felt as overwhelmed by the thought of saying a last goodbye to
 the love of her life as she was overjoyed at the countless stories and heartfelt remembrances being offered, like gifts, of her husband.
“I feel like I’m wrapped in a big blanket of love,” she said. “This is amazing, look at everyone here. There really is no word for what I’m feeling.” Firefighters from surrounding towns joined Chester’s firefighters in creating a solemn but fitting tribute to Chief Dolloff. A 40-foot American flag was hoisted from two ladder trucks across Route 102, and a committal ceremony at the cemetery brought a life well lived to a dignified close.
“By my accounts he was the Mayor of Chester. Red will forever be ingrained in so many parts of the town,” said Lorna Hazelton, during closing remarks at the funeral service. “I only hope we can make Red proud, and love and care for this town as much as he has.”

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