What about Bob?

By: Tiger Schmittendorf January 27, 2008

View the story of Bob's funeral courtesy of WKBW-NewsChannel 7 Special thanks to WKBW Photographer Chris Couell.

Good morning.

Since last Tuesday night – the night that tore us apart inside – and the same night that brought us all together; we have mourned the loss of Robert E. Newell.

As I was leaving the funeral home last night, I told Bev: “Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate.”

Tomorrow is here. So, today we CELEBRATE the life of Bob Newell. It starts NOW!

To say Bob had a certain way about him – is like saying water is "helpful" in putting out fires. He was a real character.

You never had to wonder how Bob felt about a person or a subject. Did you?

His honesty was at times cutting – surpassed only by his caring for others. You always knew where Bob stood on a matter. And for that, I loved him.

In fact, Bob was a lot like the drink he enjoyed most: fine scotch.

He was smooth, colorful and 100 proof.

Bob Newell loved to teach and students loved to be taught by him, young and old, experienced and green. I don't know of many of our fire service leaders who never took a class from Bob Newell sometime in their career. His reach crossed county and state lines, career and volunteer.

Bob was most in his element when in the classroom or on the training ground. He exuded pride in training his replacements and took great satisfaction in teaching new recruits.

And he didn't just teach them how to be firefighters; he taught them how to be great firefighters.

In addition to all of their requisite skills, Bob taught them discipline and teamwork. He taught them to respect their officers, their peers and themselves. He taught them that the road to leadership begins by being good followers.

Bob put them back in line when they stepped out, and he was never shy about offering a verbal kick in the pants where appropriate.

I remember him “booting” a new recruit from our second Firefighter 1 Boot Camp. He told him to pick up his “stuff” and promptly escorted him out the door.

But, Bob knew how to impart grace too.

He followed the recruit outside and coached the young man on the importance of authority and respect in the fire service.

After a time long enough to scare the crap out of the other students, Bob then allowed him to return and apologize to the class – and that new recruit is now a good fireman.

Bob taught many valuable lessons that way.

Bob was also adept at applying a gentle nudge just at the right time to boost his students’ confidence when they doubted their capabilities.

He wasn’t just a great teacher; he was a great listener too. Several of Bob’s students have since shared stories of how Instructor Newell listened to their troubles and then talked them down “off the ledge” of quitting a class or even the fire service.

He was a good judge of character and could tell pretty quickly if you were a good investment. If he saw the smallest glimmer of hope for your success, he invested everything he had in helping you reach your goals.

He never, ever, allowed anyone to fail themselves.

He taught his students about life in general, life as a firefighter and the importance of loving this job and all that it has to offer, good and bad.

Bob was a rare breed. He was both old school and cutting edge at the same time.

At age 63, and just a few years into his retirement, Bob was not one to slow down or cut back. He was always the one pushing us, always exploring new innovations and embracing new technologies and techniques.

Hewas on top of his game.

His dedication to his family and the fire service were unmatched and his legacy will live on for years to come.

Bob Newell was a good firefighter, a great instructor, a class act and a generous friend.

And if you knew Newell like I knew Newell... I know you’ll agree.

Lastly I’d like to address Bob’s two families. For those of you who have been around the fire service, you know that being a firefighter is like leading a double life. There’s the life with your real family, and then there’s the life with us, your other family.

While Bob was integral to both of his families, I envied him for achieving success at balancing the two, always keeping his first family first: Bev, Rob, Jay and John.

But we also know that Bob immersed himself in his second family, this great fire department, for almost 40 years.

Bob Newell was not only in the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department – but the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department was in him too.

You don’t have to look far around this fire station to see Bob Newell’s thumbprint. He left a lasting impression on physical things like the training room and the maze – and on the faces of the people who share his love for this fire department.

I know how proud he was of Hamburg because he spoke of your successes often. Bob was always testing people to be their best – as he knew we were capable of.

And he sure put his fellow firefighters to the test this week with implementing the very firefighter funeral program that he had fostered.

You have stepped up to the challenge and done an outstanding job, each and every one of you, together as a team, just the way Bob taught you.

I know he is beaming with Hamburg pride as you honor him today.

Bev, thank you for keeping Bob grounded and balanced by frequently dragging him away on vacation – while we were dragging him in a million other directions.

While there was never any doubt whether Bob had his priorities straight, you made sure he took time out of his so-called retirement to be with his other loves: you, the boys, their girls, and your grandchildren.

He was never shy about talking about his pride in – and love for – each of you, and how much he enjoyed every moment he spent with you.

Anyone who knows anything about firefighters knows that it’s not us who are making the sacrifices. Missed meals, birthdays and other important family gatherings are just more opportunities for us to do what we love.

The people making the real sacrifices are the people who love us – the ones who are left behind when the siren sounds.

Bev and boys, I know you made some real sacrifices with Bob’s dedication to serving his fire department and his community; but please know that it was not in vain.

He did more for the Village of Hamburg Fire Department and our fire service – than we will possibly ever realize.

Thank you for sharing him with us. Thank you for the gift that was Bob.

Bob liked quotes from famous firefighters, never taking into account that he was a famous firefighter himself.

I selected this quote from Edward F. Crocker, Fire Chief of the Fire Department of New York from 1899 to 1911; that I think speaks of who Robert E. Newell was:

I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman.

The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one,
but those who know the work
which a fireman has to do
believe his is a noble calling.

Our proudest moment is to save… lives.

Under the impulse of such thoughts the nobility of the occupation thrills us
and stimulates us to do deeds of daring,
even of supreme sacrifice.


I said earlier that the celebration of Bob Newell starts right now. So, in that vain I hope to leave you with a smile, a snicker and as Bob would have it –a smart-ass remark.

Bob and I had pet names for each other. I called him “Newelldorf” because I felt bad that he didn’t have as many letters in his last name as I did.

He routinely called me “wise guy” or “smart ass” – and used them interchangeably.

Our secretary Debbie just told me Friday that he would ask for “Tigger” whenever he called the office. I didn’t know that. Trust me, I’ve been called worse.

As many of you know, I talked to Bob just a few hours before he passed away. We exchanged the usual “mutual harassment” and made lunch plans.

He ended the conversation by saying, "OK Wise Guy, I'll see you on Friday."

I said, "You're buying and I'm eating," which was how all of our lunches went.

This brief contact left me with a smile.

Later that evening, I experienced the privilege of being with his family and his fire service family as we started the mourning and remembrance process – the way Bob would expect us to: together.

This week’s events made me remember something that Bob had told me before he retired in 2000.

He heeded me a warning.

He said: “Schmittendorf… when I retire, I’m going to be the biggest pain in your ass… and the best friend you’ll ever want.”

Newell… truer words were never spoken.

Send his family a message at this Buffalo News Guest Book.

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Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on January 31, 2008 at 8:50pm
Having the privilege to eulogize a couple of close friends, I can tell you that there are two secrets to "nailing it".
First; what is said in the eulogy has been shared between you and the recipient of the eulogy; in other words, your best friend or family member. You are merely reminding yourself and them.
Second; you deliver it to THEM. In this case, you are sharing it with the others in the room, but you are again speaking to your best friend or family member.
Tiger; you gave everyone at the service a glimpse into your heart and mind in matters of Bob. Bob had no reason to slow down, cut back or otherwise stop doing what he loved, because he loved the people that were a part of his life. And you and many others gave it back to him. Many struggle with that hole that is left in their heart with the passing of a loved one, but it is soon replaced with the warmth of fond memories and stories that make them laugh, cry and honor their loved one.
It is hard enough to stand before a crowded room and espouse on matters of our profession.
It is entirely another to stand before a crowded room and espouse on matters of the heart with calm, eloquent passion.
TCSS.
Art
Comment by LadyChaplain on January 29, 2008 at 11:16pm
That was a very moving piece. I don't think that anybody would disagree with you even for a minute throughout that entire speech.
Comment by Dave, NB 9 on January 29, 2008 at 4:44pm
Tiger,
The Eulogy you gave is going to go further than you know in everyone who attended. You did as everyone expected you to do. You nailed it ! Job well done, my friend.
and I didn't even call you ''Tigger" in all that.
Comment by Jon on January 29, 2008 at 2:32pm
"Tigger"
sorry i had to. again thank you for the help in the last fue days. our dept could not have done what we did with our the help from the brotherhood! i hope that every one will be able to go back to the norm, not that it will ever be the same without bob. we will all carry a little bit of bob with us untill we go and see him once again. as bob would say
"OMNIS CEDO DOMUS"
Comment by Cathie Wallace on January 29, 2008 at 10:19am
I am sorry.. but I can't get through nothing with out getting a little terry eyed, but as it was stated share our stories of Bob and he will always be with us. I know that I have an angel with me.
I only knew Mr. Newell for a little while when I was in E.F.A.T classes. The one day my Explorer post went to the maze, He said," How's Smiley today?" He couldn't of made me happier.
Mr. Schmittendroff, You couldn't of done a better job. Thanks for keeping me smiling.
Comment by Judy Keihl on January 29, 2008 at 8:35am
Great teachers, friends and firefighters don't come around everyday...he will be surely missed by both families.....
Judy
Terry's Corners FD
Comment by Teresa on January 29, 2008 at 1:05am
Well Put Tiger..I couldnt be more prouder than i am now after reading this..


Little T.
Comment by Kevin Jewett on January 29, 2008 at 12:45am
Very nice tiger im sure you had just about everyone in tears
Comment by Mary Ellen Shea on January 28, 2008 at 10:31pm
Sean told me today that you "nailed the landing" on your parting words to your friend. I told him I wasn't surprised.

I also said that a funeral for a friend is a lousy reason to be compelled to write something so eloquent, but that everyone must have been glad to have someone there who was up to the task.
Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on January 28, 2008 at 10:04pm
Thanks J -

His fire department did a tremendous job of giving him the send-off he deserved. There were 300-400 people present in the fire station. It was quite moving.

PS - That's Mr. Tigger to you....

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