Late Selectboard member, firefighter and EMT Bob Manners was ‘born to work in public service’

Robert “Bob” Manners, longtime Shelburne Fire Department chief, and his grandson, Otto, pictured in October 2022 during a controlled burn at a structure donated by neighbors Carolyn and John Wheeler so future firefighters could train for certification. Manners’ wife, Laura, remembers her husband saying of Otto’s presence, “his first house fire; a third-generation firefighter.” Bob Manners died Friday after a battle with lymphoma.

Robert “Bob” Manners, longtime Shelburne Fire Department chief, and his grandson, Otto, pictured in October 2022 during a controlled burn at a structure donated by neighbors Carolyn and John Wheeler so future firefighters could train for certification. Manners’ wife, Laura, remembers her husband saying of Otto’s presence, “his first house fire; a third-generation firefighter.” Bob Manners died Friday after a battle with lymphoma. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By VIRGINIA RAY

For the Recorder

Published: 01-23-2024 2:56 PM

Modified: 01-25-2024 2:08 PM


SHELBURNE — Following the recent death of Robert “Bob” Manners, longtime Shelburne Selectboard member, firefighter and EMT, local firefighters decorated the Shelburne Fire Station’s facade with black mourning bunting in memory of their friend, mentor and colleague.

“It is with deep reverence and sorrow we say goodbye and good luck as your adventure continues to our dear friend, Robert Manners. Many of our members, citizens and everyone else you had contact with will remember you fondly and smile on the lessons and memories you gave us all,” the Greenfield Fire Department’s tribute to Manners on Facebook reads. “Until we see you again, we will take it from here.”

Dozens of messages have flooded Manners’ social media page and are going out to Manners’ family.

“I’m just very humbled with the outpour, the community help, and just the love and concern everybody has shown,” said Laura Manners, recounting her late husband’s sense of humor when he learned that he had an English ancestor who was a second duke.

“So he proclaimed himself the ‘Third Duke of Shelburne,’” she said with a chuckle.

A storied career of service

Manners, who died Friday at the age of 59 after a battle with lymphoma, had a long and well-respected career in emergency services, as well as service to his town. He served as deputy fire chief for the Shelburne Fire Department and as supervisor at American Medical Response (AMR) of Greenfield, among his numerous roles in emergency medical response. Manners was also a Shelburne Selectboard member for many years and a part-time Charlemont police officer.

In 2018, Manners received the Greenfield Community College Distinguished Alumni Award. After completing his associate’s degree there in 1986, he went on to earn degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Springfield College’s paramedic program.

His role as a mentor in the EMS field and community service is well-known in Franklin County. Close family friend Julie Page met Manners after volunteering with the Shelburne Fire Department in 2004. She is treasurer of the Franklin County EMT Association, where Laura Manners is secretary and Robert had served as president.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

PHOTOS: Fight prompts brief traffic backup on Hope Street in Greenfield
Sunderland Bridge being reduced to one-lane traffic next week
Div. 5 softball: Turners Falls father-daughter duo of assistant coach Jay Liimatainen, pitcher Madi Liimatainen celebrate Father’s Day weekend as state champions
Div. 5 softball: Turners Falls blanks Georgetown 5-0, captures MIAA-record 11th state championship in program history (PHOTOS)
In new hands, Green River Festival returns with headliners CAKE, Fleet Foxes and Gregory Alan Isakov
Mutton and Mead organizers chart new course with ‘Roads to Revelry’

“Bob is one of the best trainers and the people who work with him see him that way,” Page said, adding that she and Manners shared a philosophy of “if you had a good childhood, you’re not spoiled, you’re prepaid.”

“Something of this life will be expected of you and giving back isn’t really giving, it’s just part of how things are supposed to work,” she said. “With Bob, you can see that in everything he’s done.”

Joe Judd, neighbor and friend, now Shelburne town clerk, met Manners in 1975.

“My journey and friendship with Bob Manners started many years ago in Shelburne Center while standing on a ladder at Fellowship Hall painting the building with another dear friend, Ed Moore,” Judd recounted. “We both heard a sound that day coming from behind us and, as we turned our heads around to look, we spotted a young boy, not more than 11 or 12 years old, dragging this huge fire hose across the Little Mohawk Road, determined to get to the other side.

“I asked Eddie who that was, and he said that was the fire chief’s [Manners’ father, Guy Manners] boy. As he struggled to get the hose up the driveway and eventually to the pond north of the hall, I asked Ed what his name was, and Ed replied, ‘Bob.’ Neither of us would ever guess that our lives would become intertwined, eventually leading to a nearly 50-year relationship ...”

Judd’s friendship with the Manners family blossomed, especially after he and Manners’ mother, Betty, served together as Shelburne Free Public Library trustees.

“As time went on and Bob and I began to cross paths, I watched him work hard at being a firefighter, which is something he loved more than I could ever adequately describe, and over time, he became a pure professional at this job,” Judd said. “He also became a fine paramedic and I would joke that if I was ever on the ground in need of real help and looking up, and I saw Bob Manners standing over me, I would breathe a sigh of relief. Bob was born to work in public service. Whether it was fighting a fire in Shelburne or assisting another town, working as a police officer while helping someone in a car accident, or responding to the countless 911 calls he’s been to during his career, Bob lived to serve the public.”

Judd and Manners served together on the Shelburne Selectboard for 13 years, until Judd stepped down in 2017.

“We were more than friends; we were trusted colleagues and, at times, comrades in the grand adventure of our roles, exploring myriad stages as we grew into better public servants and better people,” Judd said. “Bob loved being a selectman, and he took it seriously and worked hard at becoming more proficient in the role every single day. While all members of the boards we served together on had their strengths, Bob’s knowledge of machinery, roads, highway equipment and the overall Highway Department operation was often steered by a resolve that was confident and unshaken.”

As Judd reflected on their time together, he added, “I’m certain that many of the moments that defined the essence of our relationship will echo in my mind forever.”

“Each memory will stand as a testament to our friendship and our years spent working together,” he said. “I believe he will be forever missed in Shelburne, and far beyond Shelburne’s borders.”

Chris Go, now living in Florida, was a member of the Montague Center Fire Department and a student when he met Manners, who was preceptor, or senior medic overseer, of EMS students.

“He was a great guy and awesome person to teach us the tricks of the trade,” Go recounted.

AMR paramedic Emily Ethier, now 30, of Greenfield, met Manners when she was just a baby.

“I’ve known Bob since I was really just a few days old, when the old ambulance and dispatch crew at Mercy Hospital threw my parents a baby shower after they adopted me,” she said. “My dad hired him way back when at what would become his full-time ambulance job for the next 30-something years.

“When I got my EMT license, I was so excited to work with the infamous Bob Manners,” she continued. “I’d seen him over the years at Bring Your Kid to Work Day, Touch-a-Truck events, mock car accidents and CPR classes, as well as at EMS family reunions and such.”

Eight years later, when she was considering getting her paramedic’s license, Manners became her full-time partner on the ambulance, spending 12- to 20-hour stretches together each week.

“He quickly became one of my closest confidantes and cheerleaders, and made mentoring me one of his many unofficial full-time jobs,” Ethier said. “While we didn’t get to officially ride together because he was diagnosed and had to be out for treatment before I completed my program, he was right there for every question, frustration and second-by-second debrief ... He was my first phone call when I found out I was officially a paramedic.”

Ethier said Manners faced his lymphoma diagnosis and treatment “just like he did everything in his life: with a cheery goofiness grounded in exceptional education and training, and a confidence and calm that can only come with decades of experience and a joy for life that was unmatched.”

“He taught me to take life day by day, shifts one call at a time, and that, most importantly, the folks we encounter on the ambulance are people first and patients second, and upholding their dignity in a time of crisis should be the bare minimum in your treatment,” she said. “He was an exceptional man and the community will continue to grieve his loss for some time, but his memory will absolutely live on in the multiple generations of public safety officials he personally trained or helped educate, and the countless people he encountered in his work and left better than he found them.”

A faithful, fun friend

Manners was also known for his sense of humor.

Neighbor Barbara Giguere knew Manners since childhood as he worked for her father in their apple orchard. She recounted a time when she and Manners were 16 and she, with a new driver’s license, picked up Manners and his brother, John.

“They came out of the house in full crash helmets and wore them the whole ride,” Giguere said. “That was the same summer when Bob met Laura. We were supposed to be putting the swing set up at Fellowship Hall. This cute girl, visiting from Oklahoma, comes down to see what we were doing. Bob instantly becomes so twitterpated that he is useless in our task. He just follows her around, drooling and giggling, hanging on her every word. None of us knew then that one day she would become his wife.”

In the orchard, while Manners drove a tractor and the crew picked apples, Giguere remembers Manners singing.

“He was under the impression that the sound of the tractor drowned out his singing — which many know was not one of his many talents. Much to the amusement of the men picking apples, this was not true and he spent the season belting out his favorite Bible school songs,” she said. “He was only enlightened to the fact that everyone was listening at the end of the season.”

Another bright memory for Giguere was when she was headed for her first airplane flight.

“Bob and John were seasoned flyers, or at least had seen the movie ‘Airplane.’ They decided I needed to know what to expect. They set up rows of chairs in the Fire Station, seated me and proceeded to play the parts of pilot, stewardess and fellow passengers. By the time they were done with me, it is a wonder I was willing to fly at all,” Giguere recounted. “I sure do love my friend and I am going to miss him terribly. It is hard to imagine my world without him in it.”

David Neil, a retired pastor, was mentored by Manners when Neil did his EMT training in the early 1990s.

“I am so grateful for the service Bob gave to his community through the fire department, police department and as a town official,” Neil said. “One of my favorite memories of Bob was when he and I and a couple other unnamed individuals snuck into John Taylor’s apartment on High Street when John and Sherry were away on their honeymoon. We filled every nook and cranny of every room, both floors of the house, with inflated balloons — to the point where Bob had to crawl out the window to put the final balloon in place. When we were concerned that the police might stop by if they noticed our activity, Bob just said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got it covered.’”

As friends have recalled, Manners’ signature sign-off seems to say it all about his outlook and life: “The adventure continues.”

A celebration of life is being planned for early March at the First Congregational Church of Shelburne.