COLUMBUS (WCMH) — It has been almost one year since the Wilsons lost one of the most important people in their lives.
Jeff Wilson spent his life serving the community as a firefighter and last June he died from brain cancer.
He is one of many firefighters who have battled the disease and his family is talking to NBC4.
It’s something we hear too often: a firefighter losing their life to cancer and another family and community left to mourn.
This past year has been a tough one for the Wilsons. As they try to find a new normal, they remember the man they loved most and treasure the memories that will last a lifetime.
“Jeff and I met when we were in high school and we dated since we were 15 years old.”
Soon after graduation, Marla and Jeff Wilson were married and had two children.
“He would always introduce himself as my third child that was never leaving the house. So, if that’s any indicator of what his personality was like.”
They moved to Sunbury in 1987. Jeff volunteered at the local fire department while working full time. Even with his busy schedule, Jeff rarely missed a moment with his family.
“There were definitely times when we were eating dinner that he took off on a run, but he was always putting us first. If it was soccer games or stuff like that, he was there for us.”
His love for them is what his wife, Marla, misses the most.
“He was a great dad. That was my favorite thing. The way that the way he would come home from work when the kids were little even with the chaos going on, he would talk to the kids first. That was the first thing he did.”
Eventually, Jeff’s job as a firefighter became full time. He was hired as BSG & T’s first full time assistant chief and later promoted to chief of the fire department.
“He was able to just turn all of that off and when he did, he was just our dad. He wasn’t a firefighter; he wasn’t down about work. He may have been tired, but he never seemed like it. He was just our dad,” said son Danny.
Six years of being fire chief and Jeff heard the news that he had brain cancer.
“The hardest thing was he felt like he could do things that his brain just wasn’t letting him do,” said Marla.
Despite his diagnosis he continued to work, through more than one surgery, chemo and radiation.
“I’m not sure that it really surprised me. At first because of course we were going to beat this. We were going to be the ones that got through this. Treatment was going to work and it did for a while. But that was just who he was; especially when it came to the fire department. He loved serving the community,” said Marla.
In January of 2018, Jeff retired and in June of that same year he passed away. “I just miss the conversations that we used to have in the evenings and doing things as a family.”
Danny describes the loss of a parent being like having a safety net ripped out from underneath you. “He seemed to somehow know everything. You second guess yourself about things you want to do. ”
While they lost a man they loved, he left a lot of lessons behind for both their family and the fire department.
“There was a time when it was important for FF to never wash their gear. The dirtier they were the better because they looked more experienced. He made it clear they would be washing their gear.”
Knowing what the family knows now, they still say they wouldn’t have Jeff change a thing because he loved his career as a fireman. As the family moves towards the future, they can’t help but look to the past.
“Someone told me after he had passed away that he is never really gone if you continue to talk about him. So, we do that,” said Marla.
She and the family remember the good times and the memories that not even cancer can take away.
On May 4 the family is hosting a 5k in honor of Jeff. In years past, the event was hosted by friends and family and proceeds helped with medical bills. This year proceeds will go to a young girl in Sunbury who is battling the same brain cancer Jeff had.
A portion of proceeds will also go to Ohio Health’s brain cancer research and to Columbus Firefighter Jim Ciroli who is paying for cancer treatment out of pocket.
The 5k will be at the Park at General Rosecrans (301 Miller Dr. Sunbury) at 10am. You can register online at WallaceCreative.net/chief5k