Former Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management Assistant Coordinator Gary Tilton passed away Wednesday night at his home in Katy, four months after being named fire chief of that city.
Tilton leaves behind his wife of 37 years, Jo Ann, and one daughter, Laurie Kornfuehrer of Bellaire. The Tiltons have resided in Katy since 1968, just after Tilton was discharged from the military.
He began working for Fort Bend County as a dispatcher for the Sheriff's Office in 1971, and was named county fire marshal on Feb. 1, 1985.
A few years later, the department was realigned and the fire marshal's office and Office of Emergency Management were combined. It was then that he made the lateral transfer to the Office of Emergency Management.
He continued his life of service to the community in retirement, serving on bioterrorism committees and the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
He served as a Katy city councilman for five years, resigning that position when he was named fire chief in June. He officially took the reins of that position on July 1, after 31 years of service as a Katy volunteer firefighter.
"I think being chief is the dream of all firefighters," Tilton said at the time. "I'd always wanted to be fire chief. For me, it wasn't a goal - it was just trying to be the best firefighter I could be."
Katy Mayor Doyle Callender said Thursday morning the city is saddened by Tilton's death.
"I had lunch with him yesterday," Callender said. "He was a wonderful man and will be very much missed in our city. We're saddened by this loss."
Callender said he is proud of the life Tilton led, his service to others and his involvement in his church and community.
"He always wanted to be fire chief, and he was," said Callender. "He will be remembered for a long time here. He was an excellent councilman, fire chief and citizen."
The Richmond, Rosenberg and Needville fire departments will participate in Tilton's services, which were being planned as of press time Thursday.
Rosenberg Fire Chief Greg Mensik, a longtime friend of Tilton's said, "Gary had a real passion for the fire service. He lived and breathed it all his life. He did everything he could for every fire department in the county."
Mensik described Tilton as "very upbeat," and said, "Nothing could ever get him down. He would always lift your spirits. He never met a stranger."
Richmond Fire Chief Stephen Noto, also a longtime friend of Tilton's, said news of his death "was quite a shock."
"I think it was a fulfillment of one of his dreams to be fire chief in Katy," said Noto. "Without a doubt, Gary was a very colorful individual and passionately dedicated to whatever he was involved in. He always gave 110 percent, no matter what he did. He left his mark on all of Fort Bend County, and especially its firefighters. Without question, he did a lot for the fire service."
"I've known him just about all my life," said Needville Fire Chief David Luedeke. "He did an excellent job as fire marshal and in emergency management."
Luedeke said Tilton served as chairman of the Texas Firefighters' Association's fire prevention poster contest, and served on other boards and committees as well.
"We were just like family," Luedeke said. "He was a good guy who was well-respected in the fire service. He left lasting impression on a lot of people."
Tilton was past president and a longtime member of the Rosenberg Rotary Club.
One of his favorite pastimes was working as a clown as children's hospitals and charitable functions.
Services for Gary Tilton, 58, will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church in Katy, 600 Pin Oak Rd.
Services are under the direction of Schmidt Funeral Home, 281-391-2424.