On Sunday Aug. 13, Robert Bickard, beloved Oceanside veteran, firefighter, American Legion and Knights of Columbus member died peacefully at his home.
The cause of death was a heart attack. His memorial ceremonies and funeral were marked by testaments to his life of service. “We didn’t use a hearse,” his son Frank said. “He rode his engine, 247, from the South Side Hose Company.
“From the moment he was laid out in the funeral home, to the moment they took him away, his fire truck was waiting there in the parking lot.”
The funeral procession drove through Oceanside to Bickard’s home. When it got there, Fire Department vehicles turned on their emergency lights while Frank and his brother Richard laid a flowered cross on a chair on his porch. “He used to love sitting on his stoop at night.”
Bickard grew up in Oceanside. “He lived for Oceanside,” Frank said. “His heart was always in Oceanside.” When his family moved to Lindenhurst, Bickard still returned to serve in the Oceanside Fire Department. At the time of his death, he had been with the department for 52 years.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Bickard and other Oceanside Fire Department members went into Manhattan to assist with the cleanup. John Bacon was his partner during those efforts, which he described as “heartbreaking.”
Bacon said that Bickard’s presence at ground zero was a comfort. “He really just made you feel secure when you were with him.” In a eulogy he delivered at Bickard’s funeral mass at St. Anthony’s Church, Bacon called him a “truly amazing man,” and “a hero.”
Bickard’s son Richard said that the funeral helped him realize “how much people respected him,” adding, “I could believe the effect he had on the community.”
Frank and Richard both remembered the impact he had on their own lives. “Any time I needed something, my mother gave it to me.” Richard recalled, “and any time I wanted something, my father made me work for it… He made me the man I am, and the father I am today.” Richard added that although he was tough on his sons, he loved to spoil his four grandchildren.
Bickford’s youngest grandchild is ten years old. “I’m glad they got a good long time to get to know him,” Frank said, adding that he never missed his grandson’s soccer home games.
Bickford’s sons also remembered his punctuality. “Anytime we had an event,” Richard said, “my father was early. He’d knock on the door, I’d open it and say, as a joke, ‘Come back in twenty minutes’ and close the door in his face.” Richard chuckled before recounting how he’d quickly reopen the door and invite his father
Frank said that the thing he would miss most was his father’s presence around the holidays. “My dad came to my house every Christmas morning. He would call me the day before, and the day before that, and before that, asking ‘What time do you want me there?’” Even though Frank always told him, 9 a.m. “On Christmas morning, without fail, he’d show up at 6 o’clock.”
Frank said that the next Christmas would be difficult without those phone calls as well as New Years, and Fathers’ Day. “I feel like I lost a piece of me… My dad, my best friend.” His heart has been broken before, he said, “but this heartbreak is different. This was unconditional love.”
In addition to his two sons and grandchildren, Shelly, Corey, Connor and AJ, Bickard is survived by his girlfriend Joan.