George Gilfoyle

George Gilfoyle in 2003.

Brother George - Brookline's Honorary Fireman
and Ambassador of Good Will

The Brookline firehouse has stood on Brookline Boulevard for over a century. For over fifty of those one hundred years, one man has stood out among the crew of city firemen. He became a fixture at the firehouse, and his duties took him to all corners of Brookline. His daily walks around the community brought him in contact with the residents, and his kind-hearted manner endeared him to everyone. His name is George Gilfoyle, and he is affectionately known as Brother George.

George was born in 1945 and lived for a short time in Perrysville. When George was ten, his family, which includes sisters Sharyn and Kathleen, and brother Michael, moved to Brookline and settled on Berwin Avenue. George soon became a regular visitor at the Brookline firehouse. By age twelve he was spending so much time there, and was so helpful and inquisitive, that the firemen began assigning him various volunteer duties.

George Gilfoyle - 1956.

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Monitoring The Gamewell Alarm System

George was a student, and later a workshop assistant, at the South Park Opportunity Center. When he wasn't at school, he was at the firehouse. As George grew and matured, he was named an honorary member of the firehouse crew. His assignment was to inspect the Gamewell fire alarm boxes that were installed on telephone poles around the community. This was a very important job, and George went about his task with due diligence and devotion.

Armed with his clipboard, flashlight and radio, he would travel the streets of Brookline, going from one alarm box to the next. He would report in to the station and then test the boxes to make sure they were in working order. In the event of a neighborhood fire, George would take off running and often arrive at the scene before the fire truck and crew. The community of Brookline was always a safer place when George was on duty.

George Gilfoyle in 1970 - Pittsburgh Press clipping.
George Gilfoyle (left) as a workshop assistant at the South Park Opportunity Center in February 1970.

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Brookline's Ambassador Of Good Will

During his daily walks, George got to know most everyone in Brookline. He was always ready to stop and talk to his many friends. He had a special way of interacting with people of all ages. He would ask the kids how they were doing in school and take the time to educate them on fire safety.

He was always kind to the ladies and enjoyed having a cup of coffee with his many acquaintances on the boulevard. Anytime a friend would pass by and shout "Hello, Brother George," he would stop in his tracks and wave warmly until the passerby was out-of-sight. He loved being around people.

A devout Catholic, George regularly attended Mass at Resurrection Church. He was an altar server in the 1980s for Father John Marcucci. When not assisting with the service, George sat near the front of the church, praying ever so sincerely.

Whenever a friend entered the sanctuary, George would stand up and wave. With so many friends to his credit, George did a lot of standing and waving during Mass. The gestures were so genuine that not even the priests would interrupt. It was classic George Gilfoyle.

George Gilfoyle - 1998.
George flashing that brilliant smile with his friends at the Brookline firehouse in 1998.

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Honorary Battalion Chief And Semi-Retirement

In 2000, George was named an honorary Battalion Chief, an honor that he held dear to his heart. George remained at his post in the firehouse until 2004, when health issues forced him to stay closer to home. It didn't take long before people around the community began asking, "Where's George?"

For several years George remained at his Brookline home, on Fernhill Avenue, helping to care for his mother. His prolonged absence at the firehouse had many people wondering what had happened to the gentle man with the contagious smile who, over the years, had become one of Brookline's most iconic figures, a community guardian and ambassabor of good will.

The firehouse crew in 2000.
Brookline's Firehouse was George's home-away-from-home for nearly forty years.

For those that had been wondering, George was doing fine. In 2013, at age sixty-eight, he had slowed a bit, and his duties at home kept him from his familiar post at the firehouse, but his heart still belonged to his many friends in Brookline, who he missed very much.

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The Guest Of Honor

Then, on Sunday, April 28, 2013, after so many years away from the public spotlight, George finally came out for a visit. At the Taste of Brookline event at Resurrection Church, Brother George Gilfoyle was invited, along with his brother Michael, to accept awards for his dedication and devotion to Brookline.

George receives a City Council proclamation from
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, a plaque from Clint Burton
of Brookline, and a tin of cookies from Resurrection as
Ryan Askey of SPDC looks on. Sunday, April 28, 2013 was
proclaimed
George was honored on April 28, 2013 by Pittsburgh City Council and his friends here in Brookline.

The Guest of Honor received a commemorative plaque from the community, a tin of cookies from Father Frank Mittolo and his friends at Resurrection and, to top it off, he was presented with a proclamation from Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and the City of Pittsburgh declaring April 28, 2013 as "George Gilfoyle Day."

George Gilfoyle receives his proclamation
from District 4 Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.    George Gilfoyle with Clint Burton, Councilwoman
Rudiak and sister-in-law Mary Gilfoyle.
George receiving his City Council Proclamation (left) and speaking with Councilwoman Rudiak after the presentation.

Plaque presented to George - 4/28/13.

It was a great day for George, and a recognition that was long overdue. Seeing George mingling with friends and neighbors once again was heartwarming. It was as though he had never been away. His contagious smile and quick wit are something that had been missing here in Brookline for far too long.

The Text Of George's City Council Proclamation

Whereas, George Gilfoyle has been a Brookline resident for 58 of his 68 years, living first on Berwin Avenue and, for the past ten years, on Fernhill Avenue, and

Whereas, since the age of twelve, George was a fixture at the Brookline Firehouse, always ready to assist the crew. Over the years he earned the title Honorary Fireman and, in later years, Honorary Chief, and

Whereas, as part of his duties at the Brookline Firehouse, George spent his days walking the streets of Brookline with his clipboard, radio and flashlight in hand, inspecting and testing the Gamewell fire alarm boxes on the telephone poles. In the event of a fire, George would take off running and was often the first on the scene, and

Whereas, through his daily walks in the community, George became an ambassador of good will, always carrying a smile on his face and offering a cheery hellp to everyone. He was always kind to everyone he met and went out of his way to help educate the neighborhood children on fire safety, and

Whereas, George is a lifelong member of the Church of the Resurrection and always took his seat in the front, praying sincerely and waving warmly to his many friends in the congregation, and

Whereas, George has a heart of gold and, in his own special way, taught us all the meaning of friendship and kindness.

Therefore Be It Resolved that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh commends this kind-hearted man for his dedication to his community, his devotion to public safety, and for sharing his gift of happiness with everyone, young and old alike, and for doing his part to make Brookline a special place.

Therefore Be It Further Resolved that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does hereby declare Sunday, April 28, 2013, to be "GEORGE GILFOYLE DAY" in the City of Pittsburgh.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.

Co-Sponsored by Council President Darlene M. Harris and Councilmembers Rev. Ricky V. Burgess, Patrick Dowd, Theresa Kail-Smith, Bruce Kraus, R. Daniel Lavelle, Corey O'Connor, and William Peduto.

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George's Return To The Firehouse

His experiences at the Taste of Brookline event in April 2013 helped to renew Brother George's spirit and need to get back to what he does best, socializing with friends along the boulevard and doing his best to help out at the firehouse. The contagious smile and warm personality that defines George Builfoyle was once again spreading happiness and good will to all who came in contact with him. It was as if he had never left.

The firemen at Truck Company #26 welcomed George as if he was still one of the crew. He brought his notes along with him to the firehouse and hung out in the lounge with the crew during slow times. The only difference is that, when that call to duty came, George had to stay behind, unable to rush off and meet his mates at their destination.

Sadly, George's beloved mother Dolores passed away on January 12, 2014, leaving George alone for the first time in his life. He spent some time with his brother Michael until he found a permanent residence in the Creedmoor Court Apartments complex on the parish grounds of Resurrection Church, a place where George spent so much of his life. His Brookline friends and his fellow firemen helped him through this grieving time.

George at the firehouse in 2014.    George with a painting of the firehouse in 2015.
George hanging out at the firehouse in September 2014 (left) and with a painting of the Brookline firehouse in 2015.

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A Very Special Dedication

On August 8, 2015, George Gilfoyle, perhaps the most loyal fireman in the long history of the Brookline Community, received an honor that has never before been bestowed on a living individual in the annals of the City of Pittsburgh and the Bureau of Fire. An bronze plaque was placed near the front of the garage honoring George's lifelong committment to public safety and his years of dedication to the Engine House.

The initiative to fund and erect the commemorative plaque, that includes a smiling image of George, was led by Brookline resident Doug Brendel. Contributions were made by countless Brookliners who have known and loved George over his five decades at the firehouse. It took a few months for Doug to raise the funds, get the plaque made by Matthews Bronze, and negotiate a few hurdles to accomplish the task. It was well worth the effort.

Special Dedication - August 8, 2015.    Special Dedication - August 8, 2015.
A large crowd gathered to witness the ceremony and the guest of honor was warmly greeted by his fellow firemen.

Special Dedication - August 8, 2015.    Special Dedication - August 8, 2015.
Doug Brendel and Chief Thomas Cook unveiled the plaque, then local media interviewed George and his brother Michael.

Special Dedication - August 8, 2015.    Special Dedication - August 8, 2015.
Honorary Battalion Chief George Gilfoyle has given so much over the years to the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire.

The special event was covered by local news media and attended by scores of Brookliners. For George, it was the happiest day of his life. Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Cook was on hand to officially unveil the plaque. Initially speechless, after a few moments an elated George stated with pride, "Now the fire station is named after me!" Brookline's Brother George Gilfoyle has now been immortalized in the place he has always called home.

Bronze Plaque honoring George Gilfoyle.

"Brother" George Gilfoyle is one of those rare individuals that have a special talent for making people happy. He has touched and inspired the lives of so many people over the years and, in his own unique way, has done as much as anyone to make the community of Brookline a better place. The world could use more of the happiness and good-natured friendliness of men like George Gilfoyle.

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Some More Photos Of Brother George

George Gilfoyle.    George Gilfoyle.
George was a fixture in Brookline from his teen years, when he began volunteering with the fire department.

George Gilfoyle
George sitting at the wheel of the fire truck in 1968, wearing a vintage Engine House #57 helmet.

George Gilfoyle with Cardinal Wright.    George Gilfoyle with his dog Mantel.
George with Bishop John Wright at his Confirmation in May 1965 (left), and with his dog Mantel.

George Gilfoyle
Whenever a fire erupted in Brookline, George often was the first at the scene.

George was often out on walk-about.    George with Charlie McLaughlin in 2000.
George was always out on walk-about (left) and often a guest of former District Justice Charlie McLaughlin.

George's smile is contagious.
George always knows how to bring out the child in his friends. He is one of a kind, a true good-natured person.

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Written by Clint Burton for The Brookline Connection. Last Updated on December 31, 2017

* Photos provided by Dolores Gilfoyle, Kathleen Gilfoyle, Melissa Distel, Clint Burton, Scott Price and Doug Brendel *

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