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TOWNSEND — He was known as a man with an iron grip and a kind heart.

But now those hands and that heart are at rest.

William G. “Billy” Hamilton Jr. died Sunday after a nearly seven-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Hamilton, 54, served in both the Groton and Townsend fire departments for almost four decades, beginning in 1970. He was a founding member of the Townsend Firefighter’s Association, and was widely admired and respected as a caring and generous man.

Born in 1952, Hamilton was raised in Groton and educated in Groton Public Schools.

He was an Eagle Scout.

In 1970 he joined the Groton Fire Department, where he served for 14 years and rose to lieutenant before moving to Townsend in 1984, where he also joined the fire department and served until his death last weekend.

He also worked for 31 years at May & Hally Oil Co.

Hamilton was active at the Groton Congregational Church, where he served as collector and treasurer.

Last month, in a surprise ceremony at the Townsend Ridge Country Club feting Hamilton and attended by over 500 people, the popular firefighter was promoted to the rank of captain.

Townsend’s Board of Selectmen honored Hamilton by proclaiming the day after the ceremony, Feb. 21, “William G. Hamilton Day.”

Current Townsend fire Chief William Donahue said earlier this week that his department is struggling to come to grips with the loss.

“We’re all just kind of walking around here, trying to figure out what to do, how to be,” a somber Donahue said.

Donahue said the department would be displaying the black bunting normally hung when a member of the fire service dies and, along with the department in Groton, planned to take part in the funeral ceremonies.

The Townsend and Groton departments will be sharing the duties of honoring Hamilton with full honor and color guards

Hamilton leaves his wife of 21 years, Robin, and two sons, Sebastian, 17, and Preston, 19, all of Townsend.

Despite the fact that last month’s event was held on barely a week’s notice, it is a testament to the life of Capt. Hamilton that it drew nearly 600 people. The location had to be changed from Townsend’s Memorial Hall to the larger country club facilities to accommodate the crush of people who wanted to pay respects to the beloved firefighter.

“Everybody loved him,” said Groton fire Chief Joseph Bosselait, who said he knew Hamilton for about seven years. “Everybody from the fire department, people in his church, the scouts, everyone. He always had a smile from ear to ear. Everybody loved him.”

Bosselait remembered the glee Hamilton took in razzing the chief, who came to Groton from Stow, about his former department’s performance against Hamilton’s teams in firefighter competitions known as “musters.”

“Billy used to tease me about coming from Stow because (Hamilton’s team) used to beat Stow all the time,” Bosselait remembered with a chuckle. “He liked to give me a little razzing about that.”

An event celebrating Hamilton’s life is planned for this Saturday, Mar. 10, in the Performing Arts Center at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School, 344 Main St., Groton.

Calling hours for friends and family will be held Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Union Congregational Church, 218 Main St., Groton.

Hundreds of firefighters are expected to attend the Friday and Saturday ceremonies, giving Captain William G. Hamilton Jr. full honors due to his dedication and contributions to the fire service.

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