A Million-Dollar Smile And a Gift for Woodwork

January 31, 2002

A long, wooden trestle table sits in the dining room of Engine Co. 33 on Great Jones Street in Lower Manhattan. The tablecloth that before Sept. 11 covered the FDNY logo on its surface is gone, the insignia proudly displayed for all to see.

Big enough to seat 25 firefighters, the table is the handiwork of Robert King Jr., a nine-year firefighter and woodworker who died in the line of duty during the terrorist attacks.

The table, the bunk beds he made for his three small children and the handworked cabinets that furnish his home in Bellerose Terrace stand as a sturdy memorial to the soft-spoken man everyone called "Smiling Bobby King."

King, 36, had the kind of grin that let you know he was happy with his lot in life. "His smile was just worth a million dollars," said his mother, Audrey King of Lecanto, Fla.

His vocation matched his disposition. The type who would drop whatever he was doing to help a stranger change a tire, King looked at firefighting as a way to help on a larger scale. "He always came home happy" from the firehouse, said Theresa King, his wife of nine years.

Their marriage was a true partnership, Theresa King said. The two met at 19 when they were living in Forest Hills, and they married in 1992.

"We did everything together," she said, from cooking meals - his specialty was lemon chicken - to tending a small herb and vegetable garden in their backyard.

When he wasn't working, King spent hours with the couple's three children, Thomas, 5, Elizabeth, 4, and Stephen, 2. "He could comb his little girl's hair better than I could," said Audrey King.

Other times he'd go down to his basement workshop to finish up a project, maybe a wooden truck for the boys, or a birdcage for his mother. The sounds floating up the stairs - the buzz of the saw, King singing happily along with his favorite oldies station - let his wife know that all was well. "He was just so at peace with himself," she said.

A Mass for King, whose body was identified Friday, will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bellerose, with a reception to follow. Family and friends may pay their respects tomorrow between 2 and 5 p.m. and 7 and 10 p.m. at R. Stutzmann & Son Funeral Home in Jamaica.

-- Jennifer Smith (Newsday)