William R. Johnston

William R. Johnston
World Trade Center

Soccer and Football Whiz

For a while there, a large firefighter was walking around with one eyebrow. That was thanks to William R. Johnston of Engine Company 6 in Manhattan.

It happened while the Fire Department football team was on the road, and Mr. Johnston shaved off his teammate's eyebrow while the fellow was sleeping: part of some undetermined high jinks, said Mr. Johnston's sister, Diane Cuff. He was the quiet one in a North Babylon, N.Y., family of four siblings, but could be mischievous outside of it. While on a date at a Ground Round restaurant one night, Mrs. Cuff said, she heard a familiar-sounding croon. It was Mr. Johnston, singing "Roxanne" into a microphone. "He was a character, and everyone loved him for that," she said.

The Fire Department and sports grabbed Mr. Johnston more than anything else. He joined the football team as a kicker because of his soccer prowess. His friend since age 5, Eugene Masula, said that Mr. Johnston played professional indoor soccer and had "a rocket of a right foot." On their team in a Long Island amateur league, Mr. Johnston was the center midfielder, or playmaker.

Until joining the Fire Department nearly two years ago, Mr. Johnston worked for the Transit Authority as an ironworker, tending to elevated subway tracks. A high-school friend, John Kolich, joined the New York Police Department around the same time as Mr. Johnston. "We both were really ecstatic for each other," he said. Not long afterward, Officer Kolich found himself attending Mr. Johnston's funeral in full dress. "I never thought in a million years I'd wear my uniform for my best friend," he said.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 30, 2001.

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