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Remembering Richard Ligon, Riverhead’s pioneer firefighter

Hundreds attend a memorial service on Saturday, May

Hundreds attend a memorial service on Saturday, May 13, 2017, for Richard Ligon, a 40-year veteran of the Riverhead Fire Department who died on Monday at the age of 77. He was the first black firefighter in the department's history. Credit: Randee Daddona

Hundreds of friends, family and fellow firefighters gathered Saturday night at department headquarters for a memorial service for Riverhead Fire Department pioneer Richard Ligon, the town’s first black firefighter.

People came from as far as upstate New York for the second night of services for Ligon, said Riverhead Fire Chief Kevin Brooks.

Ligon died Monday of a heart attack at home. He was 77.

Born in Riverhead in 1939, Ligon applied to the Riverhead Fire Department but was rejected in July 1975. Ligon filed a complaint with the state and reached a settlement with Riverhead’s Board of Fire Commissioners in October 1976 to join the department.

Ligon became a staple in the department he served for more than 40 years. Over his tenure he was captain of the department’s Red Bird Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 for two years.

Timothy Corwin, 2nd assistant chief of the fire department, and William Kelly Jr., 3rd assistant chief, said Saturday that Ligon was a caring, but firm figure with whom they trained to participate in the department’s drill team.

“He was always there to help,” Kelly said. “He was a man of the people, and he made you feel like you were part of the people.”

“He was a very smart guy, very tough,” said Peter Jackman, the department’s 1st assistant chief.

Brooks recalled his last conversation with Ligon on May 7 being playful banter about department matters, which he said was normal between the two friends. But he grew more serious when he talked about his friend’s dedication to his job.

“He was dedicated, in all aspects of the service,” said Brooks, adding that he admired how active Ligon was despite having a lot to juggle in his professional and family life.

Ligon was the second-oldest of six brothers and sisters. His sisters Shirley Ligon, 76, of Atlanta and Rose Rita Watson, 74, of Rockledge, Florida, said their brother was very energetic and wanted to be active, be it joining the Navy or helping family.

“He always kept busy, he was always doing something,” Shirley Ligon said. “Even up until the end, he was still going.”

“You would hear stories,” Watson said as she pointed to Riverhead High School, which the three of them attended, across the street from the fire station. “Everybody knew him and everybody loved him.”

Ligon’s sisters said their brother was a guiding figure to his nieces and nephews, who they said were among his joys.

“He would discipline them, but they could go to him and he would listen,” Watson said.

“We’re going to miss him, but he’s in our hearts and we won’t forget him,” Shirley Ligon said.

Funeral services for Ligon will be at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead, and burial with military honors will take place afterward at Calverton National Cemetery.

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