Donald Gillott, a West Hempstead resident who served just shy of six decades with the Lakeview Fire Department and 30 years in the Hempstead Town highway department, has died.
He was 77.
The volunteer firefighter, known for his punctuality, a belly-chuckling laugh and collection of wise sayings, died of natural causes May 14.
"He was a proud fireman, helpful to other people and he made his family proud," older brother Ray Gillott, of Levittown, said.
Born in Brooklyn, Gillott lived his entire life in West Hempstead, where he went to high school but did not graduate. He had learning disabilities but was able to get his driver's license and joined the Lakeview Fire Department in 1956 at age 18. He drove ambulances and hook-and-ladder trucks.
Early on, he was the main chauffeur of the department ladder truck. "He was really the only bull that was strong enough because it was a manual steering system," said Heather Senti, an ex-chief and current fire district commissioner. Gillott was the "only one strong enough to do that."
He was known for his kindness and oft-repeated sayings, such as "You have to do something to do something wrong," Senti said.
Gillott retired as a truck driver and snowplow operator from Hempstead in 1997.
"He kind of lived by simple rules," Ray Gillott said. "His rules were to keep things simple and don't worry."
During his first 50 years of volunteering, Gillott responded to more than 50 percent of the events and fire calls that came into the department. "He's only the second member of what we call the 50/50 club," Senti said. "He was very dedicated. We were Donald's second family."
In later years Gillott served as a trustee, taking care of equipment and making sure supplies were stocked. He was recently made an emeritus member of the department and upon his death became an honorary chief.
Gillott was known to play Santa Claus for many years at fire department parties and would occasionally don an Easter Bunny suit. "He was very generous, generous with his time," his brother said.
He was also a constant fixture at his brother's house.
"He regarded my family as his own and certainly he was a major part of our family," Ray Gillott said. "When he wasn't at the firehouse, he was at my home."
In addition to his brother, he is survived by several nieces and nephews. Services have been held.