‘A true gentleman’ — Friends pay tribute to late Darien fireman
When that fire whistle blew, no matter what time of day or night it was, all the firemen responded. One of them was Robert Eldredge, who died Nov. 14 at the age of 84.
Eldredge was a firefighter with the Darien Fire Department for 57 years. He served as financial secretary from 1971 to 2018, and was on the department’s Board of Trustees from 1971 until the early 2000s.
He was also a U.S. Marine, worked as a letter carrier for the Darien Post Office, and was a Special Officer for the Darien Police Department.
Darien firefighter Bob Montlick, 82, recalled many decades of memories of his longtime friend.
“Bob and I joined the fire department together in 1961,” said Montlick, who lives in Norwalk and grew up in Darien. “We both responded and would often drive to fires together. We didn't have radios at that time. You heard the whistle.”
Montlick, as well as Eldredge’s other friends and colleagues the Darien Times spoke with, all said that Eldredge was a special person who will be greatly missed.
The announcement of Eldredge’s passing on the Darien Fire Department’s Facebook page received 131 comments and 32 shares.
Montlick remembers spending time with his friend during a town-wide blackout about 20 years ago.
“There was a freeze where the whole town was out of electricity. We had a generator and allowed all the students from a local private school to stay at the firehouse until the power came back on,” Montlick said. “We let them sleep on the floor of the meeting room. Robert volunteered with me to stay with the kids. The whole upstairs meeting room was filled up with kids. We cooked and fed them for a few days until the power came back on.”
Darien Fire Department Vice President Shane Smith said Eldredge was someone who people were instantly drawn to. When he would walk into a room, “people wanted to hear what he had to say.”
“They would love to hear Bob tell stories about the old days,” said Smith, 37, of Darien. “Through his service in the fire department, he saw the town from old school to new school.”
Those stories included Smith’s grandfather Bill Smith, who was a firefighter with Eldredge in the 1960s.
“I appreciated him taking time telling me these stories, since I never got to meet my grandfather. He passed away in the late 1970s,” Smith said. “Bob said I would have made my grandfather proud, knowing I had risen through the ranks of the fire department.”
Eldredge “touched everybody’s life in one way or the other,” Smith added.
Shane Smith’s father, Dennis Smith, 58, said he grew up “admiring” Eldredge.
“When I became chief of the fire department in 2002, he was there if I had any questions, and gave me guidance,” Dennis Smith said.
He added that Eldredge “never had a mean bone in his body” and always had a “positive outlook.”
“He was a gentleman among gentlemen,” Dennis Smith said.
Charlene Sessa, a former member and president of the Darien Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary, said Eldredge was always very kind to her.
“It wasn’t always easy or accepted being female at a fire department. Lots of the old timers didn’t want girls there,” said Sessa, of Norwalk. “Bunny (Eldredge’s nickname) was considered an old timer but he treated everyone he met with respect - young or old, male or female, firefighter or auxiliary member - he was a good man to everyone.”
Darien Police Capt. Don Anderson, whose father Bruce Anderson was on the police force for 30 years, said he knew Eldredge his entire life.
Growing up around the department, Anderson said he remembers Eldredge as “was one of those guys that treated me with respect,” said Anderson, 55, of Trumbull.
“Bob was a friend to everyone in the police department,” Anderson said.
“If he thought you were having a bad day, he would go out of his way to make sure you felt better. He would always have a kind word for you,” Anderson said. “He would get to know your name and asked how you and your family were doing.”
“He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word,” Anderson said.