I want to fill my calling,
And to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor
And protect his property”
- Fireman’s Prayer
For 53 years, as a member of the Rescue Fire Company, Calvin S. Stack Jr. embodied the answer to every Cambridge citizen’s prayers. During that tenure, he served as president, vice president, 1st assistant chief, captain, lieutenant and trustee. And whenever he answered a call, it was a point of honor to always be first to arrive on the scene.
Stack, 74, answered his “final call” on Friday, Feb. 18. And on Thursday, Feb. 24, despite overcast skies and chilly temperatures, those whose lives he’d touched felt not just duty bound but honored and privileged to pay their respects.
Hours before his Fireman’s Funeral was scheduled to start, the parking lot outside the Edward E. Watkins Dept. of Public Safety Complex began filling up with family, friends, former coworkers, fellow Cambridge High School class of 1965 graduates, government officials past and present, and, most of all, firefighters from near and far.
Inside the station, Stack’s wife Karen, whom he’d married in 1969, and son Steve, stood by tirelessly until each person wishing to personally offer condolences made their way through the lengthy line. The open casket, flanked by the Rescue 1 Fire Truck and floral tributes, was continually attended by two honor guards donning white gloves from RFC ranks who ceremoniously rotated the sacred duty every 15 minutes.
As a mark of utmost respect, the legion of firefighters in attendance presented a dazzlingly dignified display of dress uniforms, with the RFC fraternity’s silver badges bearing a ribbon of black across them.
The service of tribute, officiated by Gary Hickman and Rev. Douglas M. Ridley, was characterized as a celebration of life for a man who gave his in service to the community he loved.
Before leading the group in reciting Psalm 23, Ridley recalled that his first wife, a classmate of Stack’s, had been so proud of his Fire Company leadership. Noting that while he hadn’t ever been one to venture far from his roots physically throughout his life, his legacy nevertheless had extended well beyond his hometown, with an impact “all over the Delmarva Peninsula, the Eastern Shore, Dorchester County, and the State of Maryland,” through his special love for the fire station, and as an exemplary man of character, a true citizen and friend to all.
Chief Adam Pritchett mentioned the many nicknames Stack was fondly known by, but “to a lot of us, he was, most of all, brother and friend.”
“He lived for this department,” Pritchett added. His towering presence had been felt back when his speed in arriving at the old firehouse on Gay Street was first becoming legendary, in the years to come, whenever his voice was heard over the radio, asking "What we got?" and continuing up until his passing.
RFC President Robert Phillips recalled his surprise several years ago when Stack, who he didn’t always see eye to eye with, asked him to say a few words at his funeral. “Like brothers, we fought, and we argued, but in the end, we always stood together,” Phillips said. “Calvin always cared about how things could be better, how we could do things better. That was his life.”
That dedication was reflected in his accolades and achievements, including the State Fire Chief’s highest honor, the Lesley B. Thompson Award, being inducted into the Hall of Fame with Dorchester County, Delmarva, and Eastern Shore Fireman’s and the Maryland Fire Chiefs Associations. It also factored into his community involvement with Dorchester General Hospital, the Cambridge Jaycees and Little League, and the Dorchester County State Central Committee, Phillips said.
Recounting Stack’s successful affinity for rapidly arriving first in response to any call, Phillips joked that he’d “made the mistake of riding with him just one time in 23 years,” describing it as “warp factor 9.” But he added, “I would not be where I am today, except for the journey he took me on over the years.”
William C. Press expressed gratitude to those making up the “sea of uniforms” in attendance, as well as many he knew wanted to be there. Getting the call about Stack’s passing was hard, he said, but what really hit him was returning from Salisbury to Cambridge and seeing, “out on Route 50, at the old car dealership, the two towers rising with an American flag” in tribute.
He thanked Stack for inspiring him to become active in community organizations, and for setting an example of service. When he joined a committee, “his name wasn’t just on the list — he was there,” Press added.
They conversed the past few years about many things, but Stack mainly shared the joy and pride he felt for his family, wife Karen, son Steve and daughter-in-law Barbi, grandsons Stephen and Trevor and three great-granddaughters, Emmalyn, Kyleigh and Mylee, Press said.
Cambridge Fourth Ward Commissioner Sputty Cephas presented a proclamation on behalf of the city from Commission Chairperson Lajan Cephas, honoring Stack for over 38 years with the City Roads Department in addition to his 53 years at the Rescue Fire Company. To honor his passion for helping, Cephas asked all attending to stand and offer a round of applause.
Maryland Fire Chiefs Association Secretary Chief Pete Mellits also read a proclamation offering heartfelt sympathy to Stack’s family and commending his steady voice as a mentor to so many throughout the city, the county and the state.
As the service came to a close, bells were rung, and a bagpipe player intoned Amazing Grace as the station’s bay door was opened. Two processional lines of saluting firefighters and their families lined each side of the aisle leading onto the fire truck which waited to grant Stack’s final wish, one last ride by the old firehouse on Gay Street. As always, he was first to arrive, this time followed by a stream of flashing lights from a convoy of fire truck faithful, paying him one final heartfelt tribute.