Firefighter Liked To Leave People Smiling

December 9, 2001

Most photos of Robert F. Wallace show him pointing up to the sky. It was his way of reminding people God is up there and not to worry too much, said his mother, Elizabeth Wallace of Brooklyn.

Wallace, 43, a lieutenant with Engine Co. 205 in Brooklyn Heights who is presumed dead in the terrorist attacks, was a cheerful, funny and helpful man, family members said.

"He's a real character," said his wife, Nancy. When the two first met, "I thought he was really good looking," she said. "I thought, 'I'm going to marry this guy!'"

The couple was married for 22 years.

"He was a very, very loving man," his wife said. "He loved children and animals. He was very family oriented."

Wallace, of Woodhaven, took his four children, Jeanine, 21, Bobby, 19, Daniel, 17, and Alex, 12, to upstate ranches in the summer, taught them to ride horses and ski, played sports with them or took them fishing. "He taught me how to respect my elders and all the things that a father should teach his son," said Daniel Wallace.

Wallace grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where he was a "funny, very active little boy," his mother said. He also loved John Wayne movies. "His room used to have posters of Wayne all over it," she said. Wallace's son Daniel is also a John Wayne fan.

Wallace also "got great joy out of everything in life," his mother said. "When other people weren't feeling too well he would always try to cheer them up in one way or another."

From a young age, Wallace knew he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Eugene Wallace, a retired fire department lieutenant, his mother said.

Daniel Wallace recalled taking trips to his father's firehouse when he was a boy, and being inspired by the relationships between Wallace and his fellow firefighters. "I saw a lot of respect toward him and he was always in good humor," he said. "He would just do the job to the best that he could."

Now Daniel Wallace is taking the first steps to becoming a firefighter like his dad. "My father was going to take me to the first test that was coming up," he said.

After Wallace's firefighting career, he wanted to retire and become a sheriff in a quiet, small town upstate, his wife and mother said.

"He didn't take himself or anything real serious, except his job," his mother said. "He left everybody with a smile on their face.

"My thoughts are that he's making everybody up there laugh also - making heaven a little more joyful ... I don't know whether he's pointing up anymore, though."

-- Devi Athiappan (Newsday)