EAST MONTPELIER — It is expected to be standing room only at a memorial service to honor local lifelong volunteer firefighter Bill George at the East Montpelier Fire Department on Saturday.
George, 68, died unexpectedly Jan. 3 at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center after a brief illness from pneumonia, according to his wife, Julie Singer George, his wife of 35 years.
Although born across the border in North Adams, Massachusetts, George always considered himself a Vermonter, growing up in Pownal before his family moved to North Montpelier when he was 11. He attended Lyndon State College but then transferred to Goddard College and received a bachelor’s degree in Vermont history in 1980.
In all, George served 51 years as a voluntary firefighter, beginning at the age of 16, first with Moretown Fire Department and then with the former Goddard Fire Brigade, and finally with East Montpelier Fire Department where he served for 40 years.
In addition to being a firefighter and an EMT, George was also a state fire instructor for many years, training at fire stations across the state and was an “integral” part of creating and running the Capital Fire Mutual Aid System’s weekend fire schools, where instructors and firefighters collaborated on intensive training.
Julie George said she met her future husband in April 1984 after traveling from her home in Tomkinsville, Kentucky, to visit her brother living in Montpelier. During a stay in the area, George said a computer-class friend, Judith Wyman, arranged for her to go on a blind date with Bill George.
“She called me up and said, ‘You want to go dancing?’ and we went up to the (former) Brown Derby, but what I didn’t know is that she was setting me up with her roommate,” George said. “So, it was her and her boyfriend, and here comes Bill, a six foot five man, and we danced to reggae music all night.
“We actually decided to get married 10 days after we met, and then we waited four months and got married in September,” she added. The couple settled in Montpelier until their move to East Montpelier in 1995.
In 1985, Julie George’s parents came to visit and ended up buying a dilapidated farmhouse in Alburgh, on the shores of Lake Champlain, bringing the families closer, spending time together and sailing on the lake.
Julie George subsequently got a job with the former Vermont Life magazine, where she worked as business manager for 30 years.
In addition to his volunteer firefighter duties, Bill George also had a full-time job with the Department of Motor Vehicles where he worked on commercial truck permitting while also working as a state fire instructor, and he later worked for Formula Ford in Montpelier, transferring cars between dealerships.
Saturday’s memorial service will be something of a rerun for the EMFD, which hosted a family gathering after the Georges’ grandson, Will Reil, died in 2017 at the age of 18 after aspirating during an epileptic seizure.
EMFD Chief Ty Roland has spent the last 30 years working with Bill George.
“He was a state fire instructor for a long time, training a lot of firefighters, including myself,” Roland said. “He had his playful times when he liked to joke around and have a good time, but he was also a hard worker and very dedicated and committed to the fire service, for sure.
“Obviously, for the 51 years he put into the fire service, it was a passion of his,” he added.
Deputy Fire Chief Toby Talbot said George was a "gentle giant" and spoke highly of his time with the EMFD. He also noted that George took his role as the safety officer with the department seriously, where he would “watch out” during fires to ensure firefighters were safe.
“I started in the fire service at the age of 50 and Bill was my mentor,” Talbot said. “He took me under his wing and helped me come up to speed and understand a lot of things about the fire department, and then we became great friends.
“We would spend every Friday afternoon, sitting around the fire station, chatting about all kinds of things in the fire service, and politics, and World War II movies, and Jack Daniels — we had a lot of common interests. Bill was a gentle giant, he was a very kind man, he was always looking out for his other fellow man and his community and he was a terrific friend to me,” he added.
Julie George said she had been told by EMFD officials that they were expecting a big crowd at the Saturday’s memorial service, at 2 p.m.
“The fire department said they were going to put out 150 chairs and they thought that there would still be people standing because his students were far and wide in this state,” George said. “The brotherhood of these wonderful firefighters is strong and vital.”
To read George’s obituary, visit https://www.timesargus.com/obituaries/william-howard-george-jr/article_e4b35bb8-b814-504c-98b6-0df47d13196f.html