Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Firefighter proud of serving on force

Robert Smith Caldwell, Jr., who was among Toledo s first African-American firefighters, died Thursday at his Toledo home. He was 61.

Relatives said they did not yet know the exact cause of Mr. Caldwell s death but suspected congestive heart failure.

A 1960 graduate of Scott High School, Mr. Caldwell worked for a local dairy and as a cement mason before joining the fire department in 1967. As a cement mason, he worked on the construction of Southwyck Shopping Center in South Toledo, said Felicia Gibson, one of Mr. Caldwell s three daughters.

Mr. Caldwell joined the fire department because “it was something he thought he would be good at,” Mrs. Gibson said.

Mr. Caldwell was proud to be a firefighter and often talked of the firehouse culture and camaraderie, said Robia Barringer, another daughter.

But as an African-American man at a time racial barriers were still partially in place, she said, he found himself regularly posted in poorer parts of town, where buildings were less likely to be in good repair and thus more dangerous when they caught fire.

Respiratory problems led to Mr. Caldwell s 1978 retirement from the fire service, his daughters said, and with his marriage breaking up at that time too, he moved to Oakland, Calif., and found work at a refinery there. Seven years later, he moved back to Toledo, daughter Soyini Caldwell said, reconciling with his former wife long enough to raise the girls to college age.

In his free time, Mr. Caldwell enjoyed playing chess and tennis with family and friends, and fishing local waters.

“He was a serious conversationalist about current events,” Mrs. Gibson said. “He was a range of different thoughts and views.”

Survivors include his mother, Roberta Caldwell; daughters, Felicia A. Gibson, Robia Barringer, and Soyini Caldwell; sister, Sharon Norwood; and three grandchildren.

The body will be in Dale Funeral Home Chapel, 572 Nebraska Ave., where the family will receive visitors from 3 to 6 p.m. today. A wake service will begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow, followed by funeral services at 11 a.m. in Church of the New Covenant, 3864 Jackman Rd.

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