WILMINGTON – Chris Leach was a dedicated family man and firefighter who valued the relationships in his life, his uncle, Deacon Martin J. Leach, said at his funeral Mass on Sept. 30 at St. Elizabeth Church.
Deacon Lynch, from the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., was the homilist at the Mass. Lt. Leach died Sept. 24 while battling a house fire near Canby Park in Wilmington in a case of alleged arson.
Leach was the sort of adult “that many of us would like to be,” the deacon said.
The Mass took place in a standing-room-only church, filled with family, friends, firefighters from all over Delaware and other parts of the country, and students from Salesianum, Padua and St. Ann’s, where his three children attend school.
A two-hour viewing preceded the Mass. Leach’s casket sat at the front of the church, draped in an American flag with his helmet perched on top. Long lines of people waited in cool, misty weather to pay their respects.
Bishop Malooly was the main celebrant; he was joined by several other priests and deacons. The bishop addressed the grieving firefighters at the beginning of Mass.
“You are there to rescue and take care of those in need,” Bishop Malooly said. “And certainly Chris did that over his career.”
Deacon Lynch recalled that his nephew kept laminated memorial cards from his father Mick’s funeral with him, including one with his certificate of promotion from when he was named a lieutenant. He was a gifted cook who wore out a cookbook given to him by his mother, Frannie. But his favorite role in life was that of father to Brendan, Abigail and Megan, Deacon Lynch said.
“Chris had beautiful relationships with his children,” he said.
Megan, he noted, enjoyed night fishing with her dad. Abigail wrote a letter about him for Father’s Day. Leach had it laminated and kept it in his locker. And it was not unusual to see a fire truck at Brendan’s sporting events.
“The love of his children was what he lived for,” Deacon Lynch said.
The deacon noted that in the days after the fatal fire, someone posted on Facebook that “Leach was a legend.” Another wrote about how much he had learned from his colleague.
“He taught me so much without even realizing it,” Deacon Lynch quoted the online tribute. “He was a man you could count on. He was a man you could trust.”
A lifelong friend, Bill Christopher, recalled the two of them pretending to rescue people in the Leach home when they were 5 and 6 years old. Leach and Christopher, classmates at St. Edmond’s Academy and Salesianum, swam together for Timberlane Pool and were both Boy Scouts. Leach went on to become and Eagle Scout.
Firefighting was in his blood as long as he could remember, Christopher said. He recalled once when they were swimming at a meet at Silverside Pool when Leach heard a call for the Talleyville Fire Company, located just up Silverside Road. His truck was blocked in, so Christopher agreed to drive to the firehouse. Leach hopped out of Christopher’s car wearing nothing but a Speedo and hurriedly tried to throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt while the fire truck left the station.
“He was the best friend probably anyone here ever had,” Christopher said, fighting back tears. “The only question he ever asked was, ‘When do you need me?’ He never stopped giving.”
After Mass, with pipes and drums from around the region playing, the casket was lifted on to a fire truck, and Brendan Leach hung his father’s helmet on the truck. A long procession then made its way up Cedar Street to the cemetery.