Retirement Speech for My Firefighter Husband and Rolo Cigar Favors

As the day drew near to the retirement dinner for my husband Jeff hosted by the Petaluma Fire Department, I gave a lot of thought to what I would like to say to him at the event and for others to hear. It’s one of those chances you don’t get too often to give honor and accolades publicly to a loved one. In usual Cathe fashion, I procrastinated writing my speech to just a day or two before the dinner since I seem to work best under deadline pressure. I thought googling “retirement speech husband”, “retirement party speech firefighter”, etc. might yield some good content but was surprised there wasn’t much if anything out there to source from for an outline or help with context. I was pretty much on my own. (Which is why I’m sharing my speech on my blog, should someone in the future need a little inspiration with theirs. That, and it gives me another chance to share how proud I am of this man.) Here is the speech I wrote. Completely unable to memorize, I read it to Jeff, family, and dinner guests last month.

When I met Jeff in 1987, he’d been a paid firefighter with Valley of the Moon Fire Department for just over one year. We became instant best friends, then about 5-6 months later, started dating. When we were engaged to be married, he applied and tested with Petaluma Fire Department. He was accepted and given a start date of July 9, 1990.

 Our wedding was scheduled for July 6.

 Jeff was so excited for our wedding………… be over so he could report to duty at Petaluma. (Needless to say, our honeymoon was postponed 18 months.)

I learned early in our marriage that missing him on his days away worked in our favor as it kept our relationship exciting when we were together.

After five years we were ready to start a family and were ultimately blessed with four beautiful souls, Grace, Bennett, Jamie, and Sarah.

When our first child, Grace, was stillborn, I truly felt what being a part of a supportive fire family meant. So many in the department, and their families reached out to support us, offering anything we needed to get though such a tragic and very sad time. We saw an equal amount of outpouring of kindness and support upon the adoption of our youngest daughter, Sarah, after the sudden death of her mother, my sister, Shelly.

While raising little ones, missing Jeff wasn’t as exciting as it had been. Thankfully, Jeff supported me in my desire to quit work full-time to become a stay-at-home mom. In response, he took on multiple part-time gigs over the years to compensate– from tree trimming and propane tank painting, to hazmat inspections for the County of Sonoma. He also worked as an EMT at refineries in Richmond and at the Sears Point Raceway.

Before Jeff ever rose above the rank of firefighter, I knew he was an excellent leader as witnessed over the many years he coached our kids’ baseball teams. Not only did he lead, teach, and encourage, but his number one goal was to instill in all the kids, even on the opposing team, a love for the game.

I watched those skills and traits translate into the fire service when he began to promote into leadership positions with his dedication to the department, his service to the community, and his commitment to encourage and raise morale among all firefighters.

Jeff has always had a great respect for both tradition and innovation in the fire service. His life-long drive to learn kept him avidly enrolled in fire training, and skills and leadership classes. I think if he saw any email come through his in-box about a class or training- he enrolled. It meant more time away from family, but more support for his career that would ultimately benefit us all.

A bit of a side-note– As the wife of a first responder, and now the mother of two, I never take lightly the importance of decompressing and processing the tragedies they witness and experience on the job. Broken bodies, cries of pain, odors of trauma. For years. Recently, when asked by an Argus Courier newspaper reporter about his career and any particular calls that have stuck with him, Jeff recalled, with tears, a particular one that has impacted him deeply. A father was driving his young son to school and turned around to see that the boy, with a history of asthma, had turned blue and was not breathing. The father immediately drove straight to the Valley of the Moon firehouse where, Jeff, a young firefighter, attempted to revive the boy with CPR on the floor of the apparatus room. But he did not survive. When Jeff stood to console the father, the man reached out his hand to shake Jeff’s and thank him for trying. —- It’s experiences like this that likely every current and past first responder in the room has faced, or will face. Often there’s no forgetting those experiences, there’s only managing to live with them, one way or another. Thankfully, Jeff has found healthy ways to diffuse those traumatic events in his mind through talking it out, yoga, meditation, raising sheep, long walks with the dogs, hunting and fishing, and his faith.

We’ve been married almost exactly as long as he has been with Petaluma and I’ve watched him rise through the ranks, which was no cake walk. Through exceptional perseverance and diligence he ultimately made Captain after 5 testing attempts. Once promoted, Jeff was a natural in his role as Captain. I think those were his most favorite career years. So much so that the pull to become a Battalion Chief was difficult as he knew it was a completely different bird than the job he loved. However, his call to duty overrode any desire for status quo, and he stepped into that roll proud to serve– even though he’d been warned, “the higher you rank, the less people come to your retirement party.”

After 9/11 he traveled to Iowa to team with the New York Says Thank You Foundation and his cousin, Chaplain Steve Holden of Decatur, Illinois, to rebuild parts of a devastated Boy Scout camp and a erect a memorial chapel on the site where a tornado took the lives of four boys in 2008.   Jeff has served on the board of the Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife commission for over ten years. He spent a year learning more about his community in Leadership Petaluma, and has volunteered at multiple events throughout the county and will continue to do so. Jeff is truly a man of service.

Jeff’s strong work ethic goes back to his childhood- instilled by his school-teacher mother and by working side-by-side with his father as a veterinarian’s assistant. He had many other jobs during high school, went on to work full-time as a firefighter, with additional part-time jobs, all while studying for his bachelor’s degree- at times cramming in 20 credits a semester. Even in retirement he will continue to work in the capacity of Strike Team Leader for the state during fire season, and work with me to create a better creative business.

I’m so proud to see our children have been inspired by their father’s career and have inherited much of Jeff’s strong work ethic. Each of our kids have been employed since around the age of 15, and all gone on to college. Our son Bennett, is a volunteer for Gold Ridge, and currently has 5 years under his belt as a seasonal firefighter for CALFIRE. Our daughter Jamie is a student and recent graduate of the EMT Academy. And our daughter Sarah (who couldn’t be with us tonight) graduates in May at the University of Portland with a degree in Psychology, Spanish, and Chemistry. I know they are as proud of their dad as he is of them.

I’m incredibly thankful that Jeff has reached the natural end of his career– retiring healthy and injury-free, and on his own terms. I have loved being alongside him on this journey and could not be prouder to have played the role of his partner, sounding-board, copy-editor, “I forgot my wallet and glasses” errand-runner, prayer warrior, friend, and confidant. In retrospect, Jeff has been the most attentive, supportive, faithful, and loving husband a wife could wish for. An amazing and dedicated father to our children. And a true blessing to our community.

Thank you Jeff, for all that you are.

Congratulations, and well done.

I love you more than ever, and I’m excited for what the future brings.

As party favors for the dinner guests I crafted faux cigars from Rolo candy rolls. I removed the original label and rewrapped with paper I designed to resemble tobacco leaves that was printed to basic office printer paper, trimmed to size and affixed with glue stick adhesive. I designed cigar bands with his years of service, printed them to glossy brochure paper and cut out each individually by hand to adhere over the tobacco paper. I embellished an old, red wooden box (from my assemblage art stash) with cigar box edging strips I designed with his name, printed to plain paper and decoupaged to the edges. A fake tobacco tax strip was added and all edges of the box were lightly sanded. I digitally modified an old cigar box label with a firefighting illustration with custom lettering and text, printed to photo paper then glued it inside the lid of the box. The box of cigar favors sat among the displayed mementos of Jeff’s career at the head of the room.

Until I decide to get into the Rolo-cigar-label-making-business, you can find a seller or two on Etsy that will create custom labels for your next gathering.

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