Capt. Baxter retires with big sendoff

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Today, it's 40 years and five days since Larry Baxter became a Lewisburg firefighter and now he's retired, having had a career of choice in a brotherhood of public service.

"If you're going to make a living, you've got to be somewhere," the retired fire captain said. "It's dangerous work, but I sure enjoyed my work in serving the citizens of Lewisburg."

That attitude is familiar to his daughter, Sabrina Thomas.

"He always put others before himself," she said, and it seems to have resulted in many friendships.

More than 250 people came by Baxter's retirement party on Saturday and there were as many as 60 present at any one time when the captain displayed his trademark smile.

"He's always smiling and always happy," Janet Baxter, his daughter-in-law, said during the event.

Baxter has kept in shape by running to be ready for the emergencies faced by firefighters.

"He will continue to run five miles a day," says his wife, Brenda. "He's a runner who runs all over Chapel Hill.

Baxter also anticipates that he will spend more time farming.

Brenda Baxter organized, decorated, and made a quilt with personal memorabilia for Larry.

"She couldn't have done it by herself," Larry said, noting that coordination was a strong point for his long-time mate. "My wife is a good woman to have put up with me all these years.

"I have worked holidays during my career, but there wasn't a holiday that my wife didn't have those children at the fire hall for their daddy," the retired captain said.

Brenda always did worry about Larry, as well as the other men, because of the kind of work they do. Now that he is retired, she'll still worry about the other men, according to observations among the friends and relatives on Saturday.

There is a closeness between firefighters that's hard to explain, according to Doug Williams, a retired Shelbyville fire fighter who came to the armory for Baxter's retirement. Williams called it a brotherhood, and Baxter agreed when reflecting on world events that focused attention on the fire service.

"When 9-11 hit, all we could do is ... watch it on TV and realize what they and their families were going through," Baxter recalled.

It affected others, as Americans know.

"The people of Lewisburg couldn't bring us enough cake and things," he said of the outpouring of support from residents for their firefighters.

"And they still do on 9-11."

As with others in professional brotherhoods, there are mishaps that become the tales to be retold and, sometimes, they include good advice for young firefighters.

Baxter is missing part of his ring finger. It's not noticeable, although if one looks they won't see the fingernail on that part of his hand because it's gone.

Should the story be told again?

"Let 'er rip," Baxter replied openly. "Go ahead."

The ring hung on something on a fire truck and ripped his finger off.

So his advice is: "Guys, you need to get those rings off your fingers. They are dangerous."

Baxter turned 62 on Dec. 22. The retirement party was 40 years and one day after he started work.

And it's become known that another firefighter will soon retire with 40 years of service.

"Yes," Baxter said. "He's going to stay 40 years and they will be up in August."

That man might work a little longer than Baxter to be able to say he lasted longer.

"He might. I wouldn't care," the already retired fire captain said.

His daughter, Sabrina Baxter Thomas, is a pharmacist working in Jackson, Tenn., where her husband, Dr. Steve Thomas, is a radiologist. Baxter's son, Joseph Baxter, is a Lewisburg water department employee, who's married to Janet Jones Baxter who works for a urologist is Nashville.

Baxter retired with a city pension and monthly Social Security payments.

Tribune Senior Staff Writer Clint Confehr collaborated with community photographer Joyce Lee for this story.