Former Richmond Hill firefighter Leslie Barto passed away Nov. 28, ending her battle with malignant melanoma, which she was diagnosed with last December.
Barto’s passing came as a shock to friends and family, who had seen some progress in her as of late. On Thanksgiving Day, the day before she passed, Barto was with family and in good spirits. In a blog entry entered that evening, she spoke of how happy she was to have family visiting her from out of town, stating "I am so lucky to have all the wonderful friends and the great family I have who have really supported me this past year…I am so thankful for all the people in my life and just wanted to let you all know that."
"She was such a caring, helpful person," said her husband, David Barto. "She always put other people ahead of her."Before becoming a firefighter, Barto served as a special education teacher in Bryan County – and in Montana before that. She had experience as a volunteer firefighter in Montana, and left teaching when a full time career opened up in the Bryan County Fire Department.
She eventually transitioned to the Richmond Hill Fire Department when she was hired as a fire inspector, which she worked at until cancer forced her into early retirement.
"She loved working with kids, but her true passion was firefighting," David Barto said. "Both professions were geared toward helping others, which is why she chose those occupations."
Richmond Hill Fire Department Chief Vernon Rushing said Barto was instrumental in bringing the fire inspection program to Richmond Hill and always conducted herself in a professional manner.
He said he hated to see her step down when she had to leave the department due to illness.
"Leslie brought a lot of character to the Richmond Hill Fire Department," said Rushing. "It is a sad time for our unit. We all will miss Leslie very much and she will always be remembered at this station."
Deborah Melton worked with Barto at Richmond Hill Primary School and the two have been close friends for the past five years.
"She really loved being a firefighter," Melton said. "She really did have a passion for it, and that was one of the hardest things for her since being diagnosed – not being able to perform the job she loved. She was a really great person. I just can’t believe she’s gone."
Barto leaves behind two children – 15-year-old Friedrich and 18-year-old Alexandra.
David Barto encourages those who knew his wife to post comments on http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/lesliebarto
He said the website was a helpful tool in keeping Leslie’s spirits up and has helped console the family.
A memorial service for Barto is slated for Friday at 5 p.m. inside the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church. Before she passed, Barto asked that, instead of flowers, folks who wanted to to do something special send donations to one of two charities:
The Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation (2575 Chantilly Drive, Atlanta, GA 30324) or The American Cancer Society (PO Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718).