Raymond Paul Herr, 18, junior volunteer firefighter, former Hamilton resident

November 13, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Raymond Paul Herr, a junior volunteer firefighter and former resident of Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood, died Monday at his home in Hockessin, Del., of rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare childhood cancer of the soft tissues and muscles. He was 18.

Mr. Herr was born in Baltimore and lived on Pembroke Avenue. He attended St. Dominic Parochial School in Hamilton until 1994, when he moved with his family to Hockessin.

He was a June graduate of Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., where he was a member of the lacrosse team.

In August last year, he came down with flulike symptoms that were later diagnosed as rhabdomyosarcoma. Because of repeated and intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Mr. Herr was unable to attend school. However, he successfully completed his senior year schoolwork at home with the assistance of a tutor.

Letters of encouragement and hope came from Pope John Paul II, who sent an Apostolic Blessing from the Vatican, and from President Bush, who sent an autographed picture and a personal letter.

At a fund-raiser for the family this year, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware spoke of Mr. Herr's courage and presented him with a plaque.

"He was an incredibly courageous young man and was so determined to be present for his graduation," said the Rev. Thomas B. Curry, Salesianum principal. "He had sheer determination, focus and a good heart, and these things made him the remarkable young man that he was."

Faculty and students overwhelmingly selected Mr. Herr for its Vincent J. Kowalewski Memorial Award, presented at graduation to a student whose life embodies "spirit, courage and accomplishment in the face of special challenges."

As he made his way to receive the award, slightly slowed by braces, Mr. Herr was greeted with a thunderous ovation.

"Thousands stood up and cheered for Ray," said his maternal grandmother, Shirley Cochran of Parkville.

For the past five years, Mr. Herr was a junior firefighter with Hockessin Volunteer Fire Company 19. A focal point of his bedroom was a large color photograph of firefighters raising the flag at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City.

"Not long ago, there was an auto accident nearby and Ray got up from bed and slipped into his gear in order to answer the call. He said he wanted to be a firefighter because he wanted to help others," said his father, Raymond C. Herr, an executive with MBNA who is also a volunteer in the same company.

Last summer, Mr. Herr completed a rock garden and pond behind his family home as a gift to his parents and sisters.

Mr. Herr was a NASCAR fan and enjoyed playing with his two Jack Russell terriers, Uggy and Buddy. He also had an iguana and several parakeets.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington. Mr. Herr's casket will be transported by a firetruck from his volunteer company for interment at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Hydes.

In addition to his father and grandmother, Mr. Herr is survived by his mother, Brenda T. Herr; five sisters, Tracey A. Herr, Mildred E. Herr, Mary C. Herr, Julia F. Herr and Shirley C. Herr, all at home; his maternal grandfather, Charles C. Cochran of Parkville; and his longtime girlfriend, Lindsay LoPicato of Hockessin.

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