Gerry Walsh had been retired about two months on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Unprompted, the former FDNY firefighter of 20 years rushed from his Westbury home to the World Trade Center and spent months with his "brothers" from Ladder Company 126 of South Jamaica, Queens, sorting through rubble and inhaling carcinogens.
Walsh's commitment to service and dignity -- and his battle against the blood cancer that claimed his life at age 58 in November -- were remembered Saturday at a ceremony to rename Birchwood Drive in his honor at Ashley Place in Westbury.More storiesNewsday's coverage of September 11, 2001WatchFamilies remember 9/11 victimsSee alsoList of Sept. 11 victims
"Retired or not, Gerry was a firefighter just like the rest of us," said Joe Connor, 62, of Commack, a retired firefighter. "We answer the call. This is who Gerry was. You could count on him to give his best all the time, every time."
Connor was among more than 100 people who attended the street dedication, which included an FDNY pipes and drums player's bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" -- and prayers.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who attended the Westbury event, said, "I truly believe that by remembering and celebrating their lives, we weave grief, pain and sorrow into strength, courage and connection."
Hope Walsh, Walsh's wife of 30 years, said the red sign outside her home brought solace. "I wish he was here instead of the sign, but at least I feel like he's being honored for everything he did and . . . suffered," she said.
Walsh's adult daughters, Christine and Katelynn, remembered him as a generous father and the life of any party, with an unmatched sense of humor.
He had been a girls soccer coach, East Meadow Soccer Club board member, and one of those responsible for making its Field of Dreams a reality.
He was also fearless. Walsh was awarded a Medal of Honor for bravery by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and lived by his mantra -- "Walshes never quit" -- throughout his four-year cancer fight.
"As a pharmacist, I know the struggle and the pain that he must have been in, and he handled it with courage . . . like a true hero," said Christine Walsh, 28.
"My father always said that one day he wanted to have a street named after him," she said. "Well, Dad, you got your wish. And in my opinion, there is no one more deserving than you."Katelynn Walsh, 26, said she felt heartened that she could see the sign from her window. "When I look at the sign, I will be reminded of how much I not only was loved by him but how much continued love and support my mom, sister and I continue to receive from our community," she said, tearing up. "That my dad would have loved to see."