A consummate leader and out-of-the-box thinker, Rich arrived with the first wave of the baby boomers and left ahead of his time.
The details of his life form a solid list. A hard worker, he climbed the ladder from computer operator to system programmer to managing a data center for the Bank of New York. An avid pilot, he obtained his private pilot’s license, continued on to get his instrument rating, then a commercial endorsement, and became a sought-after commercial flight instructor. A passionate and competitive shooter, he was a proud member of the West Hudson Detachment Marine Corps League Shooting Team, United States Practical Shooting Association, and International Defensive Pistol Association. His commitment to helping others brought him to the Byram Township Fire Department, where he held the positions of president, secretary, and lieutenant, and completed just shy of twenty-five years of public service.
But who was the man, Rich Choate? The facts cannot contain him. Rich was love. Rich was courage. Rich was loyalty. The dark cloud of his passing revealed a silver thread as his close friends, family members, and beloved community shared with me their vision of Rich.
From a dear neighbor: “Rich made me feel safe. I always felt safe knowing Rich was around.” From a colleague: “Rich was always looking out for everyone. By his example and heartfelt advice he helped shape the course of my life.” From a fellow firefighter: “Rich and I worked together for twenty-four years and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.” Perhaps what warmed my heart the most was hearing two constant refrains: “I will always remember his smile.” and “Rich always made me laugh.”
Who was Rich Choate? Rich was bedrock for anyone who needed solid ground. He was the only son of Frances and Lewis Choate; the father of four wonderful children: Rich, Dina, Christopher, and Casey; the grandfather to four delightful grandchildren: Christopher, Nicole, Amanda, and Angela; and the go-to person in an extended family of close cousins, nephews, nieces, and in-laws.
A Buddhist friend tells me death is simply walking into another room. My Catholic faith assures me that death is but an illusion, and we will all meet again. As we honor the passing of firefighters from around the nation, let us be certain that resting in peace is both for the living and for those we celebrate this weekend. May we rest assured that their love is a real and an active presence that extends far beyond our memories. Our firefighters are still on call, twenty-four seven, walking ahead of us, cultivating our spirits in ways we never thought possible.