Firefighter, father could be counted on
The lifelong West River Valley resident died July 24 surrounded by family at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H., according to his obituary. He was 59 years old.
"He had severe arthritis for a long time," said his brother Stephan Morse, former state senator and representative. "Eventually, a lot of his bones started collapsing. His last few months were a lot of suffering and torturous."
Stephan described Mark as "jovial, very talkative," and always ready to listen and share. He "loved stories," Stephan said. "Even during his illness, he always seemed to be in a very good mood."
Mark's children Lindsey Cleveland, Taylor Morse and Austin Morse called their father "an amazing guy."
"Everything he did for us as a dad was special," they said in an email. "He stuck by our sides through everything, good or bad. We could always count on dad to help us. We will forever miss his daily phone calls (sometimes multiple times a day) just to check in and see what we were doing."
Mark "was a wonderful father, grandfather, brother, and my best friend and companion for the last 18 years," Jean Wilde said in an email. "He was dedicated to his community, joining the fire department in Newfane I believe at the age of 16."
Wilde said there were many nights when Mark would wake up to respond to a fire and be gone until the "wee hours" of the morning then still go to work the next day. Ultimately, his rheumatoid arthritis caused him to leave the Townshend Volunteer Fire Department.
Mark served on the NewBrook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, where he was chief from 1982 to 1985. Later, he moved to Townshend, where he joined the volunteer fire department and was chief from 1995 to 2004.
"We were all raised in the West River Valley," Stephan said of himself and his four younger siblings, "and taught by our parents to be involved in the community and contribute and give back. And he certainly learned that lesson well. He spent countless hours on both fire departments."
Roger Brown, who had been chief of the Townshend department for more than 22 years, said he used to drive to Keene with Mark when they both served on the board of directors for Southwestern New Hampshire Fire Mutual Aid for a few years. Later, they were both part of a group who would meet for coffee every Sunday morning at the Newfane Flea Market, which Mark's father Earle owned and is still in the Morse family.
Mark "was a great guy," Brown said. "You know how it is, everyone has friends and everyone has enemies. But we were best of friends. I could count on him just like I could count on [NewBrook Fire Chief] Todd Lawley after that."
Lawley said he went to school with Mark, who was a grade ahead of him. They would golf and go "jeeping" together. They also were part of a crew of firefighters who took as many fire classes as they could when they were younger.
"He was always great to work with and be around," said Lawley. "He did a lot for NewBrook before Townshend."
During a fire on West Street, Mark had been in a class. He heard the name of the street and tried to find out if it was his father's home.
The fire had originated at a nearby house but his father's house and barn caught on fire.
"Luckily, we put that out very quickly," said Lawley, who recalled Mark saying he had a pretty strange feeling driving to the scene not knowing what to expect.
Townshend Fire Chief Glen Beattie said Mark had been chief when he first got involved with the department.
"I thought he was a really good chief and very knowledgeable," Beattie said. "Very easy to get along with and work under. That's for sure."
Mark volunteered on Rescue Inc. He was employed as an emergency medical technician for the group at one point. He also worked as the road foreman for the town of Townshend.
Mark was a member of the Eagles Club in Brattleboro and served as a trustee for several years.
"It was rare for him to miss a Sunday morning or Monday night meeting," Wilde said. "You would find him in the kitchen at most functions helping to cook or at the sink doing dishes. His health had started to decline and he was getting tired and the last year had to stop doing those things."
Mark stayed active in town politics and rarely missed annual Town Meeting, said Wilde. She remembered him telling people they had no right to complain about an outcome if they did not vote.
His sense of humor stayed with him until his very last moments.
"He had a room full of family and close friends when the nurse came in to give him a breathing treatment," Wilde said. "The nurse unplugged the machine to move the cord and an alarm sounded. Mark went into this whole gasping for breath act and everyone stared in horror and he started to laugh! I'm going to miss that prankster type of humor, his smile, our long drives on the back roads, playing cards and just him as a whole."
Mark was "a dedicated truck driver for Brown Enterprises for the majority of his adult life," according to his obituary. He also enjoyed competing in area truck pulling events, watching NASCAR races and snowmobiling.
Stephan said Mark was "a great father" to all three of his children.
"That's really coming out at this difficult time," he said. "They're pulling together and doing great things in his honor."
The community response, Stephan said, has been overwhelming.
A celebration of Mark's life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Newfane Flea Market on Route 30, rain or shine. There will be fire trucks from both departments. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Mark's name can be made to the Townshend Volunteer Fire Department.
"People have just been calling and contributing and wanting to be part of the celebration," Stephan said. "A great honor for him I think."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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