A Colorful Patriot Mourned
LOOKED AFTER SURVIVORS: As a longtime officer of the Uniformed Fire Officers' Association and later its lobbyist, Raymond W. Gimmler made obtaining legislation guaranteeing line-of-duty death benefits to the families of cops and firefighters a major priority.

Raymond W. Gimmler, the retired labor leader, lobbyist and Fire Captain who helped create legislation granting line-of-duty death benefits for police and firefighter widows and organized a massive "Support Our Troops" march along Fifth Ave. at the height of the Vietnam War, passed away Feb. 8. He was 83 years old.

Captain Gimmler's son, Raymond Jr., is president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Benevolent Association. He credited his father for "opening doors for me in Albany and teaching me how to work with the Governor's Office and the Legislature."

'Best of Great Generation'

He added that "my dad was a real patriot; as I said in his eulogy, he was part of the greatest generation ever and he was the best of that generation."

The elder Gimmler, born in 1923, grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn and graduated from Most Holy Trinity High School.

After serving as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942 to 1945, he found a permanent home with his wife of 62 years, Loretta, in East Rockaway, where they raised their family.

He joined the Police Department as a Patrolman in 1946, transferred into the Fire Department in 1947, and moved his way up the ranks to Fire Captain before retiring in 1973.

'Hard-Liner' on Contract

Captain Gimmler was active in the fire unions while on the force, serving as a long-time member of the Uniformed Fire Officers' Association's executive board. He was elected UFOA president in 1971 and served for 18 months.

His son characterized him as a "hard-liner'' - a labor leader determined to secure fair and consistent pay hikes for the members he represented while bargaining with the city. He brought his drive with him to Albany, where he worked as the UFOA's chief legislative lobbyist for 19 years until retiring in 1992. He had a hand in crafting, introducing and ultimately passing more than 100 bills related to firefighter and public-employee safety and health benefits.

"I would have to say that his top priority was legislation giving line-of-duty-death benefits to widows and families of deceased firefighters and police officers," his son said. "He felt strongly that survivors of those killed in the line of duty should be taken care of, and he was instrumental in passing the legislation that got line-of-duty widows benefits."

City Stance Bothered Him

That achievement helped his father cope with the devastating loss of 343 Fire Department personnel on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Gimmler said his father was overwhelmed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. He was deeply disappointed that the Bloomberg administration refused to support several presumptive disability bills for 9/11 first-responders, which were eventually signed into law by Governor Pataki over the Mayor's objections.

"As time went on after 9/11, his concern shifted to the health and well-being of all the workers, and he was upset by Bloomberg's position on 9/11 health-care legislation," Mr. Gimmler said. "But I would explain to him that at least there were 343 families who would be taken care of because of [his] hard work, and that was some small measure of comfort."

Captain Gimmler's sense of duty toward the city's uniformed workers mirrored his appreciation for members of the military.

After 125,000 people marched through the streets of New York against the Vietnam War on April 15, 1967 - burning the American flag in Central Park en route - Captain Gimmler decided to organize a march of his own.

According to an article that ran in Time magazine May 19, 1967, 65,000 people joined Captain Gimmler that month for a "Support Our Men in Vietnam" march down Fifth Ave. He told the magazine that it was not "a pat on the back for the Johnson Administration."

'Peace Not the Issue'

He added that "peace is not the issue. Every sane man is for peace. The idea is just to back our fighting men."

The event drew hundreds of city workers, union members, Legionnaires, Boy Scout troops, a group of Iroquois Indians, some exiles from Communist nations, and many others, including a cadre of swing bands.

As a final touch, above the Sheeps Meadow where the American flag was burned a month earlier, two skydivers jumped out of planes with flags attached to their parachutes. Despite overwhelming support from the NYPD (1,000 off-duty cops marched in the parade), the divers were slapped with summonses for "unauthorized parachute jumping."

Mayor John Lindsay during his eight years in Gracie Mansion butted heads frequently with Captain Gimmler. The two rarely found common ground on labor issues and disagreed sharply over more than one union contract.

"He was one of the most colorful labor leaders in an era filled with colorful guys," said Martin Steadman, currently the media director for the UFOA, who was hired as a press attaché by Mr. Gimmler in 1969. "I once said to him, 'Ray, the way I see you, you're willing to take 100 punches just to get in one punch of your own.' And he said, 'You got that right.'''

Besides his son and wife, Captain Gimmler is survived by three daughters, six grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.

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