Mourners gather for veteran firefighter’s funeral
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter November 21, 2012 10:04AM
A firetruck displays firefighter Walter Patmon Jr.'s equipment.
Updated: December 24, 2012 7:03AM
It didn’t matter how you knew Walter Patmon Jr.
Whether you knew him as Walter, in his youth as Walkie, or Bubble as he was known as an adult.
What mattered, hundreds were told at the veteran firefighter’s funeral Wednesday, is simply that you knew him.
And a few of the people who knew him best, his daughters Kirwin, Kirby and Windy, held hands and locked arms as they stepped onto the stage behind their father’s casket at the Apostolic Church of God on the South Side. They smiled as they began the tributes to “an extraordinary man who wore many hats.”
“We will always see his smile, hear his laugh, share his stories, feel his strength and never forget him,” said Windy Patmon, her sisters beside her, “because he’ll be in our hearts.”
Patmon, 61, suffered a fatal heart attack Nov. 11 after returning to his Beverly firehouse from a minor fire. His fellow firefighters found themselves donning dress uniforms and white gloves Wednesday for their department’s second funeral in less than two weeks.
Bagpipes played as Patmon’s casket was carried in and out of the church and an American flag waved in the clear, crisp and sunny air over nearby 63rd and Dorchester, hung between two fire department ladders.
Patmon was born in Chicago, a product of the West Side whose family moved to the South Side. At Oglesby Elementary School, he met friends he’d keep for nearly 50 years. He graduated from Calumet High School in 1969.
He took the firefighter’s exam in 1985 but it wasn’t until 1994 that Patmon, then 43, became a Chicago firefighter. He was assigned to Truck Company 19 on the Near North Side but later transferred to Truck Company 40 in the Beverly area.
Despite the pall cast by the sight of Patmon’s casket draped in a Chicago flag and the sight of several firefighters’ hands closing its lid before the service, the church filled often with laughter as Patmon’s friends and family told fond stories of a man whose obituary says he earned the nickname “Bubble” through his “portly physique and great sense of humor.”
Daughter Kirby Patmon, for example, said her father taught her how to be an avid moviegoer, teaching her his six rules for going to the theater: Go early to see the previews, go to the bathroom before the movie starts, aim for a seat in the middle of the last row, and tally the previews of movies you want to see. Also, ask for courtesy cups if you buy a drink.
“Because a $4 pop should be enough to share,” she said, creating more chuckles around the sanctuary.
And finally, enjoy the show, she said.
Patmon’s daughters again locked arms as they left to a standing ovation. Lt. Raymond Smith followed, fondly recalling how Patmon would sometimes ask again and again for the same address while driving to an emergency call.
“Hey Bubble, I done told you three times,” Smith said amid laughter.
And of course, there were plenty of references to Patmon’s barbecue and his famous dry seasoning mix, “Bub rub.” Smith said Patmon was sometimes mistaken for the cook at the fire house because he was in the kitchen so often.
The Rev. Trunell Felder of New Faith Baptist Church International said Patmon loved Diane — Patmon’s “queen” and wife of 33 years — and wanted to make sure their home “always had something good cooking.”
“Walter, I just want to let you know you’re making it hard for every brother that stands here today,” Felder said. “He set the bar high.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago spoke at the funeral, as well. The mayor acknowledged he never knew Patmon.
“I don’t think my life is complete not having known him,” Emanuel said.
Felder called Patmon a gentle giant. A man who left a legacy of love. He was the kind of man other men wanted to be around, the reverend said, and he was a man everybody wanted to work with at the Chicago Fire Department.
“He was a firefighter,” Felder said. “But he fought for life.”