By Melanie Modlin
Acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks once said, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
For over 100 years, Alexandria Fire Chief George Pettey lay in an unmarked grave in Bethel Cemetery, located on Wilkes Street in Old Town. But that changed August 30, when a headstone was dedicated to Chief Pettey, who died April 15, 1911 while carrying out his firefighting duties.
Firefighters have a long history of commitment and concern for their brothers and sisters who risk their lives to battle the flames. As Acting Fire Chief of Alexandria Corey A. Smedley has said, “Whether over past, present or future, we take care of our own.”
Who Was George Pettey?
Born and bred in Alexandria, George W. Pettey played several roles in the community. He was a foreman, saloon owner, and firefighter, who eventually rose to the office of Chief of the Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) in 1876.
Chief Pettey was born in 1840 and lived on Union Street in Old Town. On April 15, 1911, he was on his way to a fire on South Henry Street when he collapsed from an apparent heart attack. He was taken to Alexandria Hospital but, sadly, did not survive.
Records show that he had been married twice and had three children with his first wife, Margaret Ennis. She died in 1887. He was buried beside her in Bethel Cemetery.
Correcting a Wrong 100 Years Later
These many decades later, the Trustees of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association (FVFEA) learned that the former chief lay in an unmarked grave.
The Alexandria Fire Department teamed with the FVFEA to right the historic wrong and place a headstone on the grave of one of their fallen.
“Descendants of Chief Pettey are thrilled with this dedication,” said FVFEA Trustee Ms. Marion Moon, one of the first to learn about his unmarked grave. “They are out of state but continue to send funds to help maintain the gravesite.”
AFD Captain Jason Kuehler explained that funds for the headstone were provided by the Trustees of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association. Trustee Moon contacted former AFD Chief Robert Dube to see whether the Department would lend its support to the effort. The answer was yes.
In classic Alexandria style, a civic organization, a group of first responders, and an involved family have joined forces to honor a worthy city resident.
If you’d like to visit Chief Pettey’s grave, it’s on Wilkes Street, very close to the intersection with Hamilton Avenue.