I want to thank Father Patrick Woods and everyone at St. Martin of Tours for so warmly celebrating this good life, and allowing us all to be here together in our grief, and thanks to the bishops and all the clergy gathered with us.
Our hearts are broken today as we lay to rest a hero, William Tolley, affectionately known as Billy, 14-year veteran of the FDNY. We’re here to honor his life and to mourn its end.
We’re here to grieve with his family, to be here for them – his wife, Marie; his daughter, Bella; his mother and stepfather, Marie and Frank; his father and stepmother, Bob and Marion; his brother, Bobby, and his family; all who loved Billy so much, and of course his extended family that feels such grief right now, members of Ladder 135, Engine 286. And all members of the FDNY all feel today they’ve lost a brother.
And in their pain they still do the extraordinary every day. We saw , even as firefighters feeling such a deep sense of loss, there they were yet again, there for all of us at the tragedy in Queens Village, fighting against the odds as they always do, working through their own grief but serving with their full hearts.
That’s what people do when they join the FDNY. They make a decision – a noble decision to run towards the danger. And no one epitomized that belief and that nobility more than Billy.
He laid down his life in the service of others. And his life was rich – so rich in fact, that it makes the loss even more raw and painful.
But let’s take stock and remember a rich life, a full life, a life full of feeling and love and giving to others, a life lived the way we all should live. That was Billy’s life. And let’s recognize the joy that pervaded his life. He lived with passion. And three things were his particular passions – his family, his work, and of course his metal band.
One friend said of him, “He was a hardcore rocker and also a firefighter with a baby seat in the back of his minivan.” Talk about range.
Billy poured his soul into his passions. And the life of a first responder called out to him. He wanted to be a firefighter even when he was a kid. He was a volunteer firefighter on the day – that tragic day, 9/11. And he rushed to Ground Zero from Hicksville. He spent hours searching for survivors.
He saw things that were not only painful, it could have discouraged someone from a life of service but instead for Billy his yearning to serve was only fortified. He answered the call. He joined the FDNY. He answered the call for 14 years until the final call came last Thursday.
Because he lived life to the fullest and he felt so much for all he loved, that afternoon he stopped in at a bakery near his firehouse because he was looking for the perfect desserts for Bella’s first communion but then, as he had so many times before, he responded to a fire call.
Tragedy struck in an instant.
For all of us as New Yorkers, we knew we had lost a hero and an example. But for one beautiful little girl she had lost her daddy. No words can take away the pain of that loss.
What Bella will know throughout her life is that her extended family of the FDNY will be there for her. Her mom told me last night at the wake how strong Bella had been, what a wise little girl she is.
She knows this is one family that never goes away and is always there, and what an outstanding tradition that is. The outpouring of support has been extraordinary both here in Bethpage and in New York City. Thousands came to vigils and wakes. So many more offered to help the family in any way they can. And all are inspired by the very generosity and kindness that typified that Billy’s life.
As I conclude, I want to say something to you, Bella. And I want to offer you a thought that comes from my own life. I lost my dad when I was young, a little bit older than you but still too young. My dad had worn a uniform too, that of the United States Army.
And I knew he was a hero. I knew he had done great things in the service of others. And you’re going to see throughout your life what that will mean. You’ll remember him always for all the good times you had together.
Sometimes, of course, you’ll wish you knew him better, you wish you had more time but you’ll never have to wonder about his character, what he believed in, how he used his life on this Earth. You will know he was a hero and it will sustain you.
It’s a gift to you that will help you no matter what times you live through, good times and bad. It will be a constant in your life. And it will give you strength to know that that hero is watching over you.
The whole family, we honor you. We thank you for having raised up such a good young man who did so much for others. We will all miss Billy but we will keep his memory alive in all we do.
Thank you. God bless you all.