“I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one; I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.”
Those were the words of an opening line printed on a funeral card in loving memory of the late Richard R. Gemma, a popular and respected Johnston firefighter who passed away on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, as a result of injuries he sustained in a fatal motorcycle accident in his native Cranston.
So last Thursday morning – on the first anniversary of Richard’s tragic passing – the JFD brotherhood held a moving memorial service in his honor and rather appropriately planted what emcee and Battalion Chief Richard Boehm announced was a Snow Fountain Weeping Cherry Tree.
The ceremony could have served as an unofficial dedication of the now beautiful park, located in front of JFD headquarters on Atwood Avenue, which Boehm wanted it known was “the tireless work of firefighter Paul Livoli and Chris Delfino, who turned dirt and a few patches of grass to looking like it does today and is still getting positive comments from the public.”
Boehm also explained that the newly sodded park was also made possible with additional help from members of the Johnston Public Works Department.
“As you know we are here today to not only remember the one-year anniversary of our brother Richard Gemma, but to dedicate this plaque and tree so we will always remember our brother in the years to come,” Boehm read. The then removed a covering on the memorial plaque that reads: “In memory of our brother Firefighter Richard Gemma – Always Remembered Never Forgotten. January 29, 1974 – August 27, 2019.”
Boehm then called upon Chief Peter Lamb, who delivered an emotional message as the JFD brotherhood and the late Gemma’s parents – retired Battalion Chief Richard Gemma, his wife, Kathleen, and daughters Siobhan San Antonio and Gianna Gemma – looked on.
“All firefighters have two families – biological family and their firefighting family,” Lamb said. “Any loss to one affects the other. Many people use this term ‘never forget’ – today the Johnston Firefighters show by the presence of many off-duty firefighters, this plaque of remembrance and this tree as a symbol of life, that they will never forget their brother Richard.”
Lamb, with tears filling his eyes, went on: “I wish to recognize Richard’s father, who served as a battalion chief before him, and his daughter [Siobhan] is following in his profession as a firefighter in Coventry. The words ‘never forget’ require action today and I am proud to be chief of a department that has put those words into action.”
The Rev. Richard Narciso, who serves as chaplain for the Johnston Fire Department, then delivered what many of the attendees called “a powerful and moving memorial message for our late brother” before blessing the tree that concluded a ceremony that Mayor Joseph Polisena, Local 1950 President Keith Calci, the union executive board members and JFD personal concurred was “a fitting tribute to Richard Gemma who served the department and his brotherhood with distinction and dedication with every shift he worked.”
The late Gemma, who also leaves son Antonio Gemma of Cranston and brother Louis J. Gemma, now of Florida, was a graduate of Cranston High School East and was hired as a Johnston firefighter back in 2013.
Lamb and later Boehm reiterated, “we were all in shock a year ago at this time but we will never, ever forget our brother Richard Gemma; his name will be inscribed on the department memorial at Station 2 located at 1173 Atwood Ave.”
Prior to thanking people in the overflow crowd for attending the moving Gemma memorial ceremony, Boehm introduced Local 1950 Treasurer Dave Pingitore who announced that the Johnston firefighters union was presenting a $1,000 check to be used for the Gemma Family Fund.