An Easygoing Man Who Rolled With the Punches

November 7, 2001

Robert Spear Jr. was looking forward to a long-awaited Fire Island weekend getaway. But the usual 30-minute ride on the ferry turned into a five-hour- plus fiasco after the engines on the boat they were on conked out. Spear, his sister and brother-in-law, and their dog were greeted with more setbacks when they arrived on the barrier island. Somehow, the house they were to stay in the first weekend of September had been rented to someone else. But Spear - a well-liked individual who, his mother said, managed to laugh when most would lose it - didn't panic. A call or two later, he managed to contact a fellow firefighter with a vacant house on the island.

Her son had a knack for getting out of sticky situations, said Irene Spear DeSantis. And he also enjoyed a good laugh - even at his own expense, she said. He was always up for a spoof, his mother said, but he could give as good as he could get. "He was an easygoing person who laughed a lot."

A firefighter with Engine Co. 50-Ladder 19 in the South Bronx, Spear, 30, was dispatched to the Twin Towers from Engine Co. 26 in mid- Manhattan, where he had been assigned on rotation since February. He had finished his tour and was waiting for his replacement while he talked to his wife, Lorraine, on the phone, his mother said. As they spoke, the alarm summoning his company sounded.

Spear, who lived in Valley Cottage, N.Y., in the shadows of the Tappan Zee bridge, had been a firefighter for two years. He'd also been married for two years. A memorial Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, 199 Wallnut St., Northvale, N.J. A gathering afterward for family and friends will be held at the Rockleigh Country Club on Parris Avenue, Northvale.

Spear took the civil service test at 19, his mother said. An entire decade passed before he was called. He became impatient waiting and joined the U.S. Army in 1992, she said. Stationed for two years in Fort Bragg, N.C., he was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. After leaving the military, he became a long-distance truck driver. "He was really passionate about becoming a firefighter," his mother said.

The last of four children - including Amy, 37, Barbara, 35, and Christine, 33-Spear had no children of his own, but he shared his time generously with his family, his five godchildren and his friends, his mother said. Two days before the attack, he was at his sister Christine's new house putting up shelves, scraping paint and assembling her grill, his mother said. That same weekend he took his nieces to see the Backstreet Boys at the Meadowlands. "He was just a nice man," his mother said.

-- Collin Nash (Newsday)