Around 250 people flocked to the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church on Dec. 5 to pay tribute to recently deceased Richmond Hill firefighter Leslie Barto. Barto died the day after Thanksgiving following a year-long bout with cancer.
Attendees drove under a huge American flag, draped from the long arm of a county fire truck, as they entered the parking lot. A long line of solemn city and county firefighters graced both sides of the church walkway as people poured in to pay their respects.
"I appreciate the great turnout from the local firefighters and others in the community," said David Barto, Leslie’s husband. "It was a great sight to see all the men in uniform and made for a very fitting tribute."
Several friends and relatives stood before the church podium and spoke about their memories of Barto. Her sister read a poem for her, and a friend spoke of Barto bravely fought her battle with melanoma, which carries an average lifespan of six months once diagnosed. She said it was Barto’s strength and perseverance that saw her beat those odds.
"She was really an amazing person," said Barto’s daughter Alexandra Sedlak as she fought back the tears. "She was inspirational, strong, caring and loving, and I miss her so much."
After speaking about Barto, Richmond Hill Fire Department Lt. Andy Burriss presented Barto’s lieutenant’s helmet to the family, which he said is officially retired. Burriss, who replaced Barto as fire inspector, said he never took ownership of the helmet in hopes Barto would return.
"Leslie was dedicated to everything she put her mind to and, on top of that, she presented herself with a state of professionalism that you don’t see in many people," Burriss said. "I’m not here to talk about her death. I’m here to talk about the joy she brought to all of us. As you take a look around, you’ll see the lives she touched. We’re all here because we knew Leslie, we liked Leslie and we respected Leslie."
Burriss said there’s been a lot of talk of how every Thanksgiving will now be tough for the family. He said, on the contrary, he now sees the holiday as a time to rejoice and thank God for the many blessings that Barto brought to her family and friends.
"The presence, the laughter and the joy that Leslie brought to this department I promise you will never be forgotten," Burriss said.
David Barto encourages those who knew his wife to post comments on http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/lesliebarto . He said the website has helped console the family.
Before she passed, Barto asked that, instead of flowers, folks who wanted 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).