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A Life: Douglas C. Grearson, 1933 — 2019; ‘Lived and breathed and everything for the fire service’

  • Doug Grearson rides with the Meriden Fire Department in Claremont's Fire Prevention Parade in the fall of 2018. “It was Doug Grearson sitting in our new engine in the parade, beaming from ear to ear,” Plainfield Fire Chief Willliam Taylor recalled. “The picture just said everything about him.” (Courtesy William Taylor)

  • Meriden Fire Chief Doug Grearson with the town's newly refurbished ladder truck around 1983. (Courtesy William Taylor)

  • Doug Grearson boils sap at his Meriden, N.H., farm in 1980. Grearson liked to make maple syrup on the family’s property, boiling sap with sparks flying in all directions. (Paul Brown photograph)



Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, March 10, 2019

MERIDEN — Doug Grearson spent a lifetime stealing away to fire stations.

His first visit happened when he was just two years old and he escorted himself from the family home in Dedham, Mass., across the backyard to a fire station that abutted the property, in an adventure that would enter family lore.

Eighty-three years later, in the fall of 2018, he once again snuck away from family for the evening, this time so he could ride with the Meriden Fire Department in Claremont’s Fire Prevention Parade one more time. Grearson had served as chief of the department in the 1980s.

One of the firefighters snapped a photo of Grearson that night and sent it to Plainfield Fire Chief Bill Taylor.

“It was Doug Grearson sitting in our new engine in the parade, beaming from ear to ear,” Taylor recalled. “The picture just said everything about him.”

Grearson died on Feb. 3, 2019, at his daughter Faye Grearson’s home in Lebanon, after deciding to take a rest before watching his beloved New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Grearson, who was 85, had been dealing with heart troubles since 2015.

“We were joking that he’d have to stay calm during the game, but he passed away just before they came on,” said Grearson’s daughter Jessie Grearson, of Falmouth, Maine. “He would not have missed it. He was so happy that his Patriots were playing.”

In addition to being passionate about New England sports, Grearson was passionate about firefighting.

“Doug lived and breathed and everything for the fire service,” Taylor said.

His children recall that Grearson always stopped at fire stations during trips. Even when he was at home or out with the family, he couldn’t divert his attention from firefighting.

“His head would pivot so fast when a truck went by,” Faye Grearson said.

Grearson moved to Meriden from Connecticut with his wife Arlynne in the 1960s and quickly became involved with the village’s volunteer fire department. Although he worked full time at Split Ball Bearing (now Timken Aerospace) in Lebanon, Grearson never missed an opportunity to respond to emergency calls.

However, like many firefighters in Meriden, Grearson left town during the day to work. Because of this, he helped found the Kimball Union Fire Brigade, training students at the school to respond to emergency calls when the fire department’s volunteers were away. The brigade is still running today, 41 years later. Each year the 12 students on the brigade respond to car

accidents, downed wires, school alarms and other emergencies, said Darrell Beaupre, who now leads the team.

“The brigade continues to be an important part of the Meriden Volunteer Fire Department,” Beaupre said.

In helping to start the brigade, Grearson inspired the next generation of young people who were interested in firefighting and volunteer work.

John Meegan, who graduated from Kimball Union Academy in 1980, shared his memories of working under Chief Grearson with Beaupre after Grearson’s death.

“He was one of the kindest men I ever met. He touched the lives of all in his charge and his influence went far beyond anything his family or the town can ever imagine,” Meegan wrote. “He was truly an inspiration to many (KUA) students and one of my earliest mentors.”

Grearson stepped down as chief around 1987, but remained closely involved with the fire department, Taylor said. When Grearson retired from Split Ball Bearing he and Arlynne moved

to Kennebunk, Maine, where he wasted no time connecting with the local fire department. He soon earned the nickname “Broom 1,” for his enthusiasm for taking on even the most mundane fire station tasks, like sweeping.

At Kennebunk, however, something was different. After decades of unpaid volunteer work for fire departments Grearson was finally paid for his work, since the department had a policy of paying volunteers.

“It tickled his fancy,” Arlynne Grearson recalled. “He’d say, ‘I’m finally being paid for something I’ve done all these years for nothing.’ It really pleased him to think he was finally being paid for this.”

In addition to the fire departments, Grearson had a lifelong commitment to Arlynne. The two were married for nearly 63 years, and raised four children.

“Plenty of years together but never enough,” Arlynne said.

The couple, who met in North Conway, N.H., lived a busy life, Arlynne said. Grearson spent many hours at work and at the fire station, but also always found time to support his four children in their sports, academics and activities like 4-H.

Grearson did not go to college, but delighted that his children and grandchildren were accepted into prestigious universities. “He put our college stickers on his cars. He loved to collect mugs and stickers,” Jessie Grearson said.

Grearson himself was very smart, Jessie said, and loved to throw himself into learning new skills.

“He was an enthusiast, not a perfectionist,” Jessie said. Grearson liked to make maple syrup on the family’s property in Meriden, boiling sap with sparks flying in all directions.

“I cannot understand how he didn’t burn our shed down,” Jessie said. The syrup never came out perfectly, but Grearson had fun making it.

“The maple syrup always tasted a little smokey,” Jessie said. “The things he made for you might not be perfect but they’re done. He did it.”

Grearson enjoyed spending time at the family’s camp on Lake Wentworth in Wolfeboro, N.H.

He served with the Navy during the Korean War but liked to tell people, “I never even saw a row boat” while stationed in Oklahoma. In Wolfeboro, however, he could get out on the water regularly, first teaching his children to sail and later enjoying rides in his son Douglas’s motorboat.

Grearson loved to entertain friends and family over good food, whether that was lobsters in Maine or donuts from the Yum Yum Shop in Wolfeboro. Once, after watching her father eat donut after donut Jessie told him, “Dad, you don’t have to be piggy about the donuts.”

“Oh yes, you do,” he responded. “When they’re hot, you do.”

This summer, for the first time, the family will be putting out fires and eating donuts without Grearson, a reality that they are still getting used to.

“We used to joke about his nine lives,” Faye Grearson said. “There was a fingertip lost, a chainsaw in the lake. Dad did some risky things now and then. We got lulled into a sense that he’d always be there.”

Even in his absence, the connections that Grearson fostered within his family and within the firefighting community will continue.

“He was a wonderful dad and a good, generous volunteer,” Arlynne Grearson said.

Kelly Burch can be reached at burchcreative@gmail.com.