By Dustin Brown
Firefighter Robert McMahon had a lot of best friends.
When the Woodside firefighter was laid to rest Monday after perishing in the Sept. 11 collapse of the World Trade Center towers, they all assembled at St. Sebastian Church on Roosevelt Avenue to celebrate the life of “a guy who made you feel like he was your best friend,” as firefighter Tony Fontana described him.
Foremost among those friends were his wife, Julie — seven-months pregnant with the couple’s second child — and son Matthew.
“Forever my best friend” was inscribed in the funeral program beneath a black-and-white photograph of Julie standing with her firefighter husband. A photo on the reverse side showed him smiling broadly with Matthew, a 2-year-old he affectionately called “the Prince.”
Fontana considered him his best friend, as did Damian Jackson, a childhood buddy who now wears an NYPD uniform.
“There’s so many people here who considered Bobby a best friend,” Jackson said in the final eulogy of the service, by which point numerous speakers had already claimed him as such.
An enthusiastic talker who pursued many hobbies, McMahon was rarely at a loss for topics and had little difficulty pulling people by his side to listen.
“He didn’t talk much about the Fire Department,” said Herb Janick, his wife’s uncle. “Bob had a wide range of interests that he pursued with zest.”
Firefighter Adrienne Walsh said she spent months trying to wade through a 600-page book because McMahon was constantly chewing her ear at the firehouse of Ladder Co. 20.
“Nothing was off limits,” she said fondly.
When they would debate the merits of abstract art, McMahon would always remind Walsh that “it’s not what you see, but what you don’t see that’s important.”
Although his vocal chords were legendary, he also pulled from a trove of gestures to get his point across — for instance, when he would flick his index fingers emphatically toward a table soccer game in the firehouse.
“I knew what it meant,” Fontana said. “I knew he wanted to play foosball.”
He was an accomplished carpenter with a passion for architecture and art, as well as an athlete who enjoyed snowboarding and biking.
He loved flowers — “and for a city boy he knew quite a lot about them,” according to Janick — and he cooked with such gusto that it landed him on the pages of GQ magazine a year and a half ago.
He frequently took classes, and when Fontana asked McMahon whether he was still attending school to earn a degree, he responded, “No, I’m just trying to better himself.”
He was also a mentor, whether it was for children afflicted with cancer at a camp where he volunteered each summer, or for the new firemen who would enter the house as quivering “probies.”
“He pulled out every tool and showed me every tool,” said Fontana, recalling his own first day at the firehouse. “I was there for three hours.”
But, above all else, he valued his family. McMahon had arranged his schedule to be on duty Sept. 11 so he and his wife could attend an antique glass show on Cape Code that weekend, Janick said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.