The family of a trailblazing firefighter who died of 9/11-related cancer shared tears, and laughter, Thursday in their East Harlem home.
Firefighter William Woodlon died Saturday after a long struggle with lung cancer. He was 66.
“He was a boisterous person. He was handsome,” said Woodlon’s wife of 39 years, Barbara, at their E. 118th St. home. “They called him the mayor of the block.”
He was, in fact, the organizer of block parties and put together his last one just a week before he died.
“It’s almost like he kept all his strength for that day, because it was all downhill from there,” said daughter Tachelle Shelton, 43.
Woodlon and his wife raised three daughters and had eight grandchildren. The youngest grandkid, a girl, was born Monday, two days after her grandpa’s passing. Her name is Blaze.
Barbara Woodlon said her husband had wanted to be a firefighter since he was a kid. Woodlon was one of 12 African-Americans in his class when he joined the Fire Department in January 1982.
He was first assigned to Engine 39 on 67th St. in Manhattan. Woodlon worked there until 1996, when he transferred to Engine 21 on E. 40th St. in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan.
On Sept. 11, 2001, as smoke billowed from the site where the World Trade Center had stood, Woodlon rode his daughter’s bike from Harlem to help.
“They dug up to find bodies and then tried to find survivors,” his wife said.
Woodlon suffered from PTSD following the attacks, according to his family. The smoke-eater also came down with physical ailments almost immediately after he spent weeks toiling at Ground Zero. He showed signs of asthma, COPD and emphysema.
Woodlon retired after 20 years as a firefighter in February 2002. The cancer came later. Doctors noticed spots on his lungs, then his liver. But Woodlon never lost hope, or his sense of humor.
The ringtone on his cell phone was one of his granddaughter’s saying: “Grandpa! Pick up the phone!”
In 2013, Woodlon made an unlikely friend — actor Jamie Foxx.
The pair met while Foxx was filming “Annie” around the corner from the Woodlon home. Foxx was made an “honorary Woodlon” during one of the family’s trips to the star’s L.A. home. They last saw one another two weeks ago. In April 2014, Foxx visited Woodlon after he underwent surgery for lung cancer.
“Successful surgery for my buddy Woody. #FDNY firefighter & first responder to 9/11. Firemen, I salute you. God Bless,” Foxx tweeted, with a picture of Woodlon smiling from his hospital bed.
Woodlon’s wake will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Benta’s Funeral Home, 630 St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem. Funeral services will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday in St. James Presbyterian Church, 409 W. 141st St. in Harlem.