Former Shirley Fire Department Deputy Chief Joseph Hawthorne died on Tuesday, Jan. 23. He was named the state s Firefighter of the Year in 2010 for the
Former Shirley Fire Department Deputy Chief Joseph Hawthorne died on Tuesday, Jan. 23. He was named the state s Firefighter of the Year in 2010 for the heroism he displayed in rescuing a woman from her burning apartment in 2009 when he was serving the department as its captain. SUN/JOHN LOVE

SHIRLEY -- When then-fire Capt. Joseph Hawthorne rushed into a burning building one early winter December morning in 2009 without backup or protection, he wasn't thinking about accolades. His goal was to rescue the woman trapped inside.

He went into the apartment twice to look for the mother of three, Patricia Leblanc, until he found her upstairs.

That act of selflessness earned Hawthorne the title of Massachusetts firefighter of the year in 2010 and praise from the woman and her daughters who were there to see him accept the award.

But for Hawthorne, putting the safety of others ahead of his own was just another part of the job.

Deputy Chief Hawthorne, who died on Tuesday, Jan.

Cecilia Healy of Westford, mother of Patricia Healy LeBlanc who survived a fire at her home in Shirley 2009, thanks Shirley Fire Department Capt. Joe
Cecilia Healy of Westford, mother of Patricia Healy LeBlanc who survived a fire at her home in Shirley 2009, thanks Shirley Fire Department Capt. Joe Hawthorne who entered the building with no equipment on to rescue Patricia from the fire. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE
23 at the age of 69 after battling mesothelioma, was remembered by family and friends as a man who was fiercely dedicated to his career, family, and the community.

"He was the strong, silent type," said Katie Hawthorne, his daughter. "He was a different kind of guy. One in a million."

Over a career that spanned 36 years, Hawthorne climbed the ranks to the number two post at the department.

After his retirement in 2013, he continued to work as an on call emergency medical technician and stayed involved with fundraisers and activities for the station, according to the department.

Following his death, Hawthorne's colleagues lowered the flag outside the station to half staff. The department has begun to accept contributions made in his name.


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Both Hawthorne's father and grandfather were firefighters, Katie said. The rest of his Irish family was full of uncles and cousins who served as police officers, dispatchers, and firefighters, she said.

When it came to raising his own family, Hawthorne shared the his "first love" of being a firefighter with his children.

"Me and my brother grew up at the fire station," Katie said. "That was our life."

Hawthorne also bolstered the careers of fellow firefighters, including that of his most recent partner, Capt. Troy Cooley. They were partners for about seven years.

The two met in 1993 when Cooley started working part-time. Hawthorne was the supportive teacher who taught him the ropes. Cooley credits Hawthorne for helping him become captain.

"He pretty much taught me everything I know," Cooley said.

Outside of work, Hawthorne gave back to the community as a veteran and baseball coach.

He served four years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era.

As a veteran, Hawthorne was vice commander of the American Legion post in Shirley and was a member of the association for more than 20 years, said Paul Wilson, commander of the group.

He also founded a youth baseball league sponsored by the Shirley post that ran for about five years, Wilson said.

As an avid sports fan, Hawthorne coached baseball and soccer, the sports that Katie and her brother, Jonathan, played growing up. Jonathan played in the youth league their father created and later helped him coach, she said.

Hawthorne, the "old school Irish firefighter," was a man of few words, Katie said.

"Sometimes he would chime in with a quip, but if he talked to you, you were lucky," she said.

He often let his actions speak for themselves, especially when it came to showing how much he cared for his family.

"He was on his deathbed and willed himself to stay alive for the birth of his grandchild," Katie said. "Nothing made him happier than his grandkids."

Hawthorne's funeral was held on Saturday, Jan. 27 at St. Anthony Church in Shirley and he was buried in the parish cemetery.