John Williams of Delta was on a trip to Ocean City, Md., when a helicopter carrying state controller Louis Goldstein touched down at the Maryland State Firemen's Convention.
When Goldstein emerged, he approached Williams first.
"The first person he walked up to was John - he said 'Hi John, how are you?'" said Laura Taylor, who worked with Williams for years at Delta-Cardiff Volunteer Fire Company. "He knew everyone."
Because of his health, this year's convention was the first Williams missed in 60 years. He died Monday at the age of 93.
A legacy remembered: Williams started his 78-year-long career at the station when he was just 16. He held every office at the fire company, including a 19-year term as president, said Taylor, a life member and paramedic.
"He was always looking out for the fire company," she said. "Whatever he could do to make the fire company better, John would do it."
He was smart with managing money and leading the company, Taylor said. He was also responsible for building a substation and helipad in Maryland, she said.
And in 2007, he was named chief emeritus of the fire company, Taylor said.
"He was always there if you needed help and advice, and he had a lot of experience in the fire service," she said.
Williams was also quite a character, and he liked to have fun and told a lot of stories, Taylor said.
"He was a role model for a lot of people," she said. "He did a lot of hard work and just was very dedicated.
Resilience: Williams leaves behind three children, six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Several followed his lead and went on to become firefighters.
"I guess to see his dedication to the volunteer fire service, that was a way for me to give back to the community, too," said his son Richard Williams, 67, of Delta.
And even after a wall collapsed on his father, breaking his hip during a house fire in 1989, Williams said he kept serving with the fire company, albeit in different roles.
"That slowed him down - didn't stop him," he said.
The eldest Williams was involved in organizing fundraisers for 35 years and served on Delta-Cardiff's board of directors until age 90, he said. He was also a Freemason and a member of Boy Scouts of America.
"He was a very good family man, and he was good to his children and his grandchildren," Williams said.
The fire in his heart: As his only daughter, Martha Parthree recalls growing up in the Delta home, from crab parties in the backyard to Christmas shopping together for her mother, Jane. The couple was married for 72 years.
She said her parents went to high school together and met years before that, when Williams' uncles owned a general store - the same building that housed Delta Pizza, which burned down this Wednesday.
"That's how he met my mother: He hauled her on the back of his tricycle around the store," said Parthree, 71, who now lives in Washington.
The fire company wouldn't allow women to join at the time, but it was still a huge part of family life, she said.
"He still carried a pager even though he couldn't read it," Parthree said, and others would have to decipher the small print for him.
The house also had fire phones, and Williams would turn back from an out-of-town trip and park the car at the fire hall if the sirens went off, she said.
"If we were on our way out of town, he'd get on that fire truck and go," she said. "He integrated us into the fire department whether we wanted it or not."
-Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.