New York Times Portraits of Grief

Leon Smith Jr

Leon Smith Jr.'s boots just might be impossible to fill. He wore the only size 15's in the Fire Department, said his mother, Irene, and he had to have them specially made, once he had attained his dream of joining the department.

Mr. Smith, 48, was the chauffeur — the driver — for Ladder Company 118 in Brooklyn Heights. "He would wash his rig every single day, and when he went off duty, he'd say, `Listen, my baby better be clean.' " Mrs. Smith said. "He called that his girlfriend."

An only child, Mr. Smith showed his compassionate side when he was just 7 or 8. His mother often took him to the zoo or a play, but just before departure time the doorbell would ring, and a few neighborhood children would be waiting to come along. They never got to go anywhere, he explained.

"He'd say, `Oh, Mama, please let them come,' " she said. "I always made sure I had extra money and extra food."

Mr. Smith, who had three daughters, was known for fixing the cars of his brothers in the firehouse, and those of their wives or girlfriends, even if the repairs came after a 24-hour shift. "I can just see you up there in heaven, with St. Peter's car on the lift, telling him it will only be a couple more minutes," a friend, Paul Geoghegan, wrote on a Web site in his memory.