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Kind. That’s what Larry Fitzpatrick was.
Oh, he was a brave fireman, a good football player, a devoted husband and father of eight children, a restaurateur, a good friend. He made you feel good being alive. He was so alive. He was all those things. But most of all, he was kind. He was also my boss. I waitressed at his bar and restaurant, Suspenders, while I was a young freelance writer trying to get a spot at one of the city’s tabloids.
He was more than a boss. He was a big brother to me — always looking out for me. In fact, I got my first newspaper job because of Larry. He knew everybody. Lucky for me, he knew the night editor at the New York Post.
His final act of kindness was 40 years ago: 8:25 p.m., June 17, 1980. He died while trying to rescue a brother firefighter, Gerry Frisby, at a three-alarm tenement fire in Harlem. Frisby became disoriented in the blaze and was trapped at a seventh-floor window unconscious and surrounded by flames and smoke.
After several attempts to reach him from the adjoining windows proved unsuccessful, the lieutenant from Rescue Company 3, decided to try a roof rope rescue. Larry, a member of the elite Rescue squad, was lowered down the building on a rope, grabbed Frisby from the window and out of the inferno when something unbelievable happened. The rope broke, sending the pair seven stories to their deaths.
The tragic loss was unbearable. The whole city was in tears.
But wait, perhaps we should let Birdie tell the story. You see, back then there were no cell phone photos, cell phone videos or GoFundMe pages. There were only the memories of those who were there, including the words of a kind woman who saw it all from the other side of the shaftway, words she put in a letter to a young widow 15 days later. (I’m retyping it exactly as it was written, with no corrections for spelling or grammar.)
Dear Mrs. Fitzpatrick:
I really don’t know how to write a letter like this but I’ll try. I witnessed the last heroic deed of your husband and was simply amazed by his fete. His Bravery was something I never saw before. I watched as if it was a movie. I was trying to help in any way I could. The firemen which your husband was apart are brave men. Your husband took charge of the situation with a no-nonsense attitude. In my heart I know if he had to go it would be in an effort to help his fellow man. God Bless him and your family. I wish to God I could bring both men back but I can only pray for their families. I wish I had more to give but I want his children to know that their father died a brave man who risk everything in an effort to save a fellow fireman. I’m the only person other than his friends to see what really happen.
God Bless You,
In the ensuing years, those of us who loved him would gather on his anniversary at Suspenders — now called the Bravest — to remember Larry. We would call it a “Hats off to Larry” party and we would celebrate his life with his family. And remember his kindness.
This year, the 40th anniversary, we had planned a big reunion, a large gathering to remember Larry. But a global pandemic, another tragic death and civil unrest got in the way.
There will be no “Hats off to Larry” celebration on June 27. Our celebration of love will have to wait for another day, a safer day. But, for now, during these very tragic and heartbreaking days in our country, maybe we can all begin to heal and come together by remembering the simple lesson from Larry and Birdie. Be kind.
Perry Berry, a reporter for the Daily News from 1980-81, is the widow of Firefighter Michael Berry, Engine 80.