South Jersey Realtor William F. Gerace indulged his son when he asked to see the videos of firemen battling blazes that his grandfather had showed him. Mr. Gerace also enjoyed watching the videos, so much so that he joined the Gibbsboro Volunteer Fire Department nine years ago, said his wife, Barbara.
Barbara Gerace's father, also a volunteer fireman, baby-sat for the couple and showed his grandson videos posted on YouTube. When son Cameron, now 11, returned home, he wanted to see them again.
"Bill decided to go to the academy," Gerace said. When the pager sounded, Mr. Gerace was out the door, whether the call was a medical assist, smell of fumes, or a house fire, his wife said.
On Friday, April 28, Mr. Gerace, 54, of Gibbsboro, died after suffering complications from a leg fracture last month. A fatal clot formed. He was pronounced dead at Kennedy University Hospital, Stratford, where he was taken by ambulance, his wife said.
Friends, family, and co-workers described Mr. Gerace as a caring person who enjoyed his job as a Realtor and was quick to help others. He was especially fond of visiting schools for fire prevention lessons, wearing his uniform to teach the children they did not have to be afraid if they ever encountered a firefighter.
"Bill was very passionate about everything he did. He was always aiming to please, and always asking questions when he wanted to learn," said Battalion Chief Glenn Werner.
Friends said Mr Gerace adored his children, and loved his wife throughout their 14-year marriage as much as he did when they started dating in 2001.
"He was in love the first time he met her," said a friend, Stephen Chodrow, who attended Rutgers-Camden with Mr. Gerace. "He recently told me he was still so in love with Barb even after all these years."
The two met through a mutual friend at Rutgers, where Mr. Gerace was a member of Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity. They both felt a connection, or, as Mr. Gerace told others, "I finally found the love of my life."
They dated for several years. One year, they decided to celebrate their birthdays in San Diego, where he "popped the question." Another time, Mr. Gerace surprised his wife with a Coach purse, dinner at Fieni's Ristorante in Voorhees, and a Maroon 5 concert. It wasn't her birthday or their anniversary, but Mr. Gerace told his wife she deserved something special that summer.
Chodrow also described Mr. Gerace, called "Bilge" by his fraternity brothers, as generous, caring, and always willing to help others.
"He was a quintessential friend," Chodrow said. "Bill had a gift -- the way he could put anyone he met at ease, and knew just how to act in any social situation. He made every person he talked to feel special because they were special to him."
A 1980 graduate of Paul VI High School in Haddon Township, Mr. Gerace went on to study at Camden County College. He took a wide variety of classes at Rutgers before becoming a Realtor in 1999, his wife said. He loved looking at houses, showing houses, and meeting people, she said. He had been working at Keller Williams Realty, Voorhees.
Mr. Gerace could walk into the office and turn a bad day around with his infectious smile and positive energy, said co-worker Jennifer Riches, director of the local office. "He was spunky and funny," she said. "There wasn't a day that went by that he didn't make us laugh."
Riches described Mr. Gerace as an "incredible" dad, adding, "He would walk through fire for his wife and kids."
On April 10, Mr. Gerace participated in a training exercise for the fire department. He was advancing toward the fire with the hose, but was pushed back by the recoil of the hose, his wife said. He fractured his lower right fibula. During his recovery, he visited relatives, helped his daughter, Jessica, 8, with a Girl Scout project, and attended his son's baseball game.
Barbara Gerace said she called for an ambulance April 28 when her husband was having trouble breathing as he was preparing for work.
In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Gerace is survived by three brothers.
A viewing is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, from 8:30 to 11:15 a.m. at the Church of St. Andrew the Apostle, 120 United States Ave., Gibbsboro. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11:30 a.m. Interment will be private.
Donations may be made to the Gibbsboro Fire Company, 131 Hillards Rd., Gibbsboro, N.J. 08026.