More than 300 mourners gathered for the graveside funeral of Robert Charles Baber, known universally as Bubba, at Rockgate Cemetery in Crozet August 3. Baber, 44, succumbed to an aggressive abdominal cancer that he learned of in the spring after seeking medical attention for a nagging cough.
Baber was a fourth-generation volunteer with the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department and served as chief for seven years. The CVFD brought its ladder truck to the cemetery and, connecting to a ladder truck from Charlottesville’s fire department, suspended the giant American flag that it flies at the Fourth of July celebration over the scene.
Baber’s body was brought in by an ambulance from the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad, with which he also volunteered, and his flag-draped casket was carried to his grave by fellow firefighters serving as pallbearers. It passed between solemn files of volunteers, their hands raised in salute.
When Baber was too ill to attend the parade on July 5, the CVFD brought part of it to the street outside the hospital where he could see it from his bed. Baber’s son Jacob, 19, is a volunteer with CVFD, too.
Martha Jefferson Hospital Chaplin Tammy James gave the eulogy, praising Baber’s “fighting spirit” and wit. WARS president Bill Wood called him “the epitome of service. He made Crozet a better place.”
CVFD assistant chief Will Schmertzler presided over “The Last Alarm” ceremony, ringing a bell five times in a traditional honor to a fallen firefighter. “His duty is done. He has done his best. He has gone home,” said Schmertzler, summoning the will to continue as sounds of grief came from the large crowd.
In a final tribute, Baber’s passing was announced over the emergency radio frequency and broadcast to firefighter and EMS pagers around the county from the graveside. “Rest easy, friend,” the listeners heard, “we’ll take it from here.” Then a lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace on the brow of the hill above the grave.
Mourners gathered at Crozet Baptist Church afterward.
Baber was the model of generosity and sacrifice, an exemplary citizen, husband and father and one of the best men ever to come out of Crozet.