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December 9, 2011

His Final Call

Hundreds attend funeral of Mineral Wells VFD chief, county fire marshal and former educator Steve Perdue

By Chris Agee | cagee@mineralwellsindex.com

More than 700 friends, family members and those whose life Steve Perdue touched packed Southside Church of Christ Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to a Palo Pinto County icon.

A ceremony officiated by State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association Chaplain Ben Kennedy and Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Department Chaplain William Eudy reflected the impact Perdue had on his community, not just as county fire marshal but as selfless servant.

“The love that you’re showing here today is beyond measure,” Kennedy said, which he said is a reflection of the love Perdue showed to those around him.

“There’s not a soul in here that can’t say, ‘Yes, he really lived,’” he continued, adding, “he really lived, he really served and he really loved.”

Kennedy voiced the sentiment of countless others present at the ceremony, explaining Perdue’s death will create a void in the community that will be difficult to ever fill.

“It hurts to lose a great man,” he said. “It’s not the love that causes us to hurt ... it’s the loss that hurts; the void we’re going to have in our lives.”

In the end, Kennedy said, Perdue’s own spirit and attitude will be the key to dealing with the loss.

“It’s the love that we had for him, it’s the love he had for us that will make it better,” he said.

Kennedy promised that, though the MWVFD “is going to be in some tough times” following the loss of their chief, “he would want us to carry on.”

His comments were followed by a slideshow of pictures from every chapter in Perdue’s 63-year life, to which those in attendance responded with both tears and laughter.

“I wish we weren’t doing this,” Eudy began his remarks, “but since we are, we’re going to do it right ... to Steve’s detailed instructions.”

Perdue made it clear, he said, that he did not want his casket carried on the fire truck, nor did he want a bagpiper or honor guard present for the ceremony.

Eudy reluctantly agreed, he said, adding, “I don’t want to mess with him in eternity.”

Eudy offered several personal memories of his friendship with Perdue, explaining how each contributed to the three personality traits that made him a giant among men.

“You can prepare all you want but you’re never ready,” he said, “especially when you’re talking about a larger-than-life influence like Steve Perdue.”

First, he said, Perdue was “the best mentor you could ask for,” noting his sometimes unorthodox teaching style as a biology instructor at Mineral Wells High School for many years made an impact on an entire generation.

He later served as assistant principal at the school, Eudy added, and went on to teach fire school across the state with a style that made learning relevant and encouraged knowledge retention.

Perdue was also “the best servant you could ask for,” Eudy continued, and was able to accomplish so many things in this county and beyond because of “a mind that wouldn’t quit.”

Whether serving the fire department, emergency medical service, fire school, his church or performing legislative duties for agency such as the SFFMA, Perdue consistently put others first, he said.

“He would sacrifice, no matter what, to take care of us,” Eudy said.

A Bible passage from the book of Mark, which says, “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant,” describes Perdue perfectly, Eudy noted.

He concluded by saying Perdue was “the best friend you could ask for.”

His ability to remember details and conversations years later made his friends and acquaintances feel special, Eudy said, noting Perdue was “the best friend this fire department ever had.”

Fighting back tears, Eudy said, “Steve could read me like a book; he knew when I was depressed, he knew when I was discouraged, and he always knew what to say.”

He recalled an attempt to tell Perdue how much he loved and admired him, saying, “I don’t think I could ever minister to you as much as you ministered to me.”

In typical fashion, Perdue responded with, “I’ve already got a girlfriend.”

That girlfriend, Carla Hay, became Perdue’s wife Sunday, the day before his death, though Eudy said the two acted as one for many years.

“They were married together in serving other people,” he said, remembering “what a team they’ve been.”

Agencies from across the state were present to show their support of a friend and asset to the fire service for the last time.

Mineral Wells Fire Chief Robin Allen said she was inspired throughout her career by Perdue, who she first knew as her chemistry teacher.

She recalled “a fire in the chemistry lab the second day of his class, which he thought was no big deal.”

Allen thought otherwise, she said, explaining that, “at the time I had no idea of the big fires Steve and I would work together in the years to come.”

She described Perdue as a “selfless servant” and said “this county has lost a valuable friend ... who thought of everyone but himself.”

Years in the future, she said, “people will still think of Steve Perdue and how he was everywhere at once and how he managed to do it all.”

Bob Looney, past president of the SFFMA, said, “Steve was a unique guy.”

His legacy as an instructor is unparalleled, Looney said.

“You remembered things that he said and did that you wouldn’t remember anybody else telling you,” he explained.

Norm Tindell of the Cresson Fire Department said Perdue did almost everything, but “his strongest talent was fire service education and he had a knack for teaching with a mix of science and humor,” which meant that “everything he taught stayed with you.”

He said, “I’ve been in many of his classes,” from as long as 20 years ago, and even though his department is about 60 miles away, “we came here to go to his classes.”

Texas Forest Service’s Nick Harrison agreed with Perdue’s characterization as a great educator, noting “there’s probably not a firefighter around the state that hadn’t had a class that he taught.”

He said he knew Perdue as an instructor and colleague and will experience a loss both professionally and personally.

“I’ve ... been taught by him, I’ve taught with him and I’ve fought many fires with him in this county and other counties.”

Perdue was always a source of knowledge, Harrison said, explaining, “he either had the answer right away, he knew who to call or he called you back right away.”

Additionally, Looney said Perdue “did a superb job down at the legislative sessions and got entrenched down there with those guys.”

Alvarado Fire Chief Richard Van Winkle expounded on his legislative and grant-writing efforts, saying the state’s fire departments “enjoy pretty good grant programs that may not have been available had Steve not put in the time and efforts he did.”

Perdue “probably touched every fire department in the state,” he said. “He’s going to be sorely missed.”

Eastland Fire Chief Phillip Arther said he knew Perdue practically his whole life.

“I worked with Steve in the fire service for 35 years,” he said, calling Perdue “a great man, an inspiration, a marvelous teacher,” who left “big shoes to fill.”

David Lobbes, Lake Cities Fire Department captain, described Perdue as the embodiment of fire service.

“You couldn’t help but, when you talk to him, learn something and he was tireless in his efforts to further the image and the knowledge of the fire service,” Lobbes, who worked alongside Perdue locally in 1998, said.

Two longtime firefighters from Perdue’s hometown of Ranger said the impact of Perdue’s service was recognized regularly in their department.

Skip Pattenaud said he attended fire school classes taught by Perdue for 20 years, explaining he learned something new each year.

David Pickrell described Perdue as “a hometown boy” who was “always there to help.”

Palo Pinto County Judge David Nicklas summed up the loss, saying, “the passing of Steve Perdue has left a great void for the residents of Palo Pinto County and the state of Texas.”

He said Perdue’s dedication was on display during the wildfires earlier this year, adding “I was amazed at his ability to remain on the scene of the fires for what seemed to be 24 hours a day.”

Despite his illness, Nicklas said Perdue continued to serve diligently until his death.

“We have indeed lost a true hero,” he said. “One who never sought acclaim for himself and was willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure the safety of responders and citizens as well.”   

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