Virginia Firefighters Honor Beloved 'Lantern Boy'

July 24, 2013
He started as a lantern boy, and served the Phoebus Vol. Fire Company for 71 years.

July 24--HAMPTON -- Hampton firefighters gathered outside their stations Tuesday morning, turning on fire engine lights and placing boots and uniforms on ramps -- a firefighters tribute to a fallen colleague.

Newport News Engine 13, an antique fire truck, passed a number of stations on its way to Parklawn Wood Cemetery, carrying the body of veteran firefighter Raymond Ellis Mingee Jr., his boots and uniform decorating his casket.

Mr. Mingee joined the Phoebus Volunteer Fire Company as a lantern boy in 1942 and served for the next 71 years. His work ethic was revered by fellow firefighters.

"Ray was the standard by which all people should live their lives," said John Cizmar, volunteer chief of the Phoebus Fire Department.

He went out on calls for many years, before eventually becoming the department's "house mouse" who maintained the station and fed the firefighters his famed breakfasts, according to Cizmar.

Mr. Mingee died July 18 of complications after knee surgery.

"Ray was the most dedicated person to the fire department," Cizmar said.

Mr. Mingee was promoted from lantern boy to active firefighter in 1947.

He lost his arm in a car accident in the 1950s, but continued to volunteer at the department. "The loss of one arm did nothing to stop him or slow him down," Cizmar said.

He received the Virginia State Firemen's Association Heroism Beyond the Call of Duty award in 1985 for saving a woman's life while he was vacationing in Europe. They were part of a group of people riding a gondola in Venice when the woman fell overboard into the Grand Canal. The one-armed Mr. Mingee leaped into the water and pulled the woman to safety.

It wasn't until he began experiencing knee problems that he shifted to lighter duties, cooking meals for the firefighters, often making his favorite food, clam chowder.

"He had a genuine compassion and concern for all firefighters," Cizmar said.

Mr. Mingee was an active member of Fox Hill Central United Methodist Church, serving as a greeter and usher. He was a staple at Sunday services, according to Ed Melson who served as an usher with him.

"He was fantastic," Melson said. "I don't know a better guy."

Reverend Wayne Moore, who officiated the ceremony, became close friends with Mr. Mingee. He teared up as he recalled Mr. Mingee's visits to his office. Mr. Mingee would tease Moore about his favorite golfer and share his opinions on the sermons.

"I miss my friend so deeply," he said.

One of Mr. Mingee's daughters, Amelia Ann Dick, recalled going crabbing with her father and making peach ice cream using fruit from the orchard down the road. He taught her to hold soft-shell crabs between pieces of seaweed after catching them and how to make peach ice cream using salt. But, most importantly, she said, he taught her to respect others.

"He was very loved by the community," she said. "He was just a very kind, warm-hearted person who was very respectful of other people."

Copyright 2013 - Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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