James Giberson always wanted three daughters. He made sure his wife, the former Susan Nordgaard, knew it when they were dating in the early 1980s. The couple married in 1984, and by 1992, he had his wish — and they were his truest joys.
The girls, Erika, Kari and Sara, inherited their swimming prowess from both their parents, and Mr. Giberson always accompanied them as they swam competitively throughout the Tri-state area. He often missed golf or fishing outings with his buddies to spend the day swimming with his girls, or cheering them on at a meet.
For Mr. Giberson, 43, nothing came before them, and all of his friends knew it.
The Huguenot resident observed his 20th anniversary with Ladder 35 in Manhattan on Sept. 5, only days before the Trade Center attacks.
Mr. Giberson had spent the previous Saturday with his daughters at the Great Kills Swim Club, where he was on the board of directors. It was the last weekend the pool was open for the season, and Mrs. Giberson is especially grateful the girls spent that time with their father. “He was very involved in their swimming,” she said. “The girls’ swimming achievements brought him so much pride and joy.”
A novice golfer, Mr. Giberson played at several charity events, with his fellow firefighter, Michael Kotula, also of Ladder 35. Mr. Kotula played last with his friend on Mr. Giberson’s 20th anniversary.
“He was a happy guy and he loved the game, but he wasn’t really good at it,” Mr. Kotula said of his friend. “His handicap was that his hands were so big, they almost took up the whole club. He had to get extra long grips. If he grabbed you with one hand, you weren’t getting away.
“But what made him happiest was spending time with his girls,” he added.
Mr. Kotula also gave into his friend’s request to join him on a day of fishing this past summer.
“I think is was the quiet and calm nature of fishing that he liked,” he said. “As opposed to the hustle and bustle of his other work.”
Mr. Kotula, who had worked with Mr. Giberson at Ladder 35, recently moved to the South Shore, where he was closer to his buddy.
“Jimmy and I spent a lot of time together, especially the last few years. My kids are older, but we talked about certain situations he was starting to experience as the his girls grew up,” he said.
Mr. Giberson was also a talented wallpaper hanger, something he did on the side, according to Mr. Kotula. “I tried to help him work on my home once and he told me the only way I could help him was to get out of his way,” he said. “He had the job done in a couple of hours.”
Mr. Kotula said Mr. Giberson probably helped most, if not all, of his firefighting brothers the same way, and never accepted a dime. “I tried to pay him once, but he just tore up the check,” Mr. Kotula said.
“The Fire Department was a great part of his life,” said Mrs. Giberson. “He never wanted to leave Ladder 35 or his friends there. He did talk about retiring, not unusual after 20 years of service, but I don’t think it would’ve been soon.”