Celebrating the life of a local firefighter

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WEST WARDSBORO — From participating in motorsports to firefighting, Jesse Parsons liked being a part of his community.

Parsons died Aug. 29. He was 74.

Parsons lived in West Wardsboro for 46 years. He joined the Wardsboro Volunteer Fire Department as soon as he moved to Wardsboro, Chris Liller, Wardsboro Fire Chief, said.

"He held all the different positions, pretty much," Bette Parsons, Parsons's wife, said. When Liller started 35 years ago, Parsons was fire chief. Eventually, Parsons stepped down and became assistant fire chief and, finally, took his post as fire department president.

"He responded to every call that came in," Bette said.

Liller said Parsons was always willing to help. He described him as easy going.

"He was a quiet leader," Liller said.

Parsons was an active community member. He loved to ride his motorcycle. He was a member of the International Red Knights Firefighters Motorcycle Club, Snowmobile Club and Gold Wing Road Riders.

Parsons and his wife were founding members of the Gold Wing Road Riders' Vermont chapter. They were the "only living twosome, until now," Bette said. "Now we're not two anymore."

When he wasn't volunteering, Parsons was selling motorcycle trailers and fixing water systems at his company, Pipe Wrench Water Systems & Trailer Sales, in West Wardsboro. Parsons worked his entire life, Bette said, who ran the business with her husband. Now she intends to keep the business running without him.

The two were together for 53 years. Parsons and Bette met at a dance, she said. He looked like "a slicked back Elvis Presley," she said. "I had no desire. I just wasn't interested."

Bette said she wasn't interested in going off with Parsons. She had paid to get into the dance and money was tight.

"I wasn't going off anywhere with him," she said. That went on for a couple of dances, until, finally, Bette agreed. She thought she was going out with a group of friends, but she ended up alone with Parsons.

"I was so mad," she said.

In 1964, the two got married.

"Things weren't rosy the whole time," she said. "It was back and forth, on and off, like most relationships with people."

Bette thought that their relationship followed the saying, "opposites attract."

She was loud and outgoing and he was more reserved and, "didn't say much," she said.

During the celebration of Parsons's life, Bette sent Parsons off in a way she knew he would have loved. She rode a motorcycle, side-saddle, wearing a dress, into the entrance of the ceremony. Everyone loved it, she said.

Firefighters and motorcycle groups came to honor Parsons's memory. Bette guessed that there were 200 to 300 people in attendance.

"It was just amazing to me, that everything fell into place," she said. "If a memorial service, if a celebration of somebody's life, could be a happy time, it really was. It was a sad situation — that he died — but it wasn't a sad celebration of who he was and what he did."

The celebration, she said, made everybody smile.

"He would have laughed," she said. "He would have smiled. He would have been so humbled by all of it."

It's weird for Bette, now that Parsons's gone. She's not sure what to do with the chair that Parsons used to sit in.

"For a year and a half he sat in that chair, unable to do a hell of a lot," she said.

She plans to spend her time working on the business and riding her motorcycle, she said, because that's what makes her happy.

"I know that's what he'd want me to do," she said.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.

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