Preston's first resident state trooper was man who 'left footprints'
Preston — At Thursday morning’s service for the late Robert Guiher — Preston’s first resident state trooper — the minister spoke of a certain breed of people to which Guiher belonged.
“The minister talked about how some people are around long enough and give back enough that they leave footprints behind,” recalled First Selectman Robert Congdon, who was in attendance.
Guiher, who died Dec. 22 at age 86, “definitely was a guy that left footprints,” Congdon said.
Over the years, Guiher worked his way through the state police force, stationed first at Troop E in Montville, then as an inspector for the county’s Court of Common Pleas and, later, in Preston.
A life member and past president of the Preston City Fair Association, he put his all into making the event a hit each year. He also helped build a field called the Green Memorial Junior-Major Baseball Park, the town’s first ballpark.
And he spent countless hours at the Preston City Fire Station, where he served the volunteer department as a fire captain and a president, among other positions.
On Friday, Guiher’s son David said his father was involved in the community not for glory but because it was the logical thing to do. David, one of two sons, said it seems his father’s community spirit ramped up when he became Preston’s trooper in 1964 — to know and be known made the job easier. The job, it should be noted, was a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday gig at the time.
“He was either up at the firehouse, down at the ballpark or working,” David recalled. “A lot of the time, we were with him.”
The fire station, in particular, was a family affair. Guiher’s late wife, Claire — she died in 1999 — often could be found there. And both of Guiher’s sons, David and Thomas, joined the department at age 15 — David in 1970, Thomas in ’73.
David eventually worked his way up to chief, his brother to deputy chief. By that point, their father wasn’t actively fighting blazes, but he still was attending meetings. All three have been voted life members, an honor bestowed upon only those who’ve devoted many hours to the department.
But during the period the trio was responding to fires in tandem, it wasn’t unusual — far from it, in fact.
“In volunteer fire departments, you have a lot of that: family members, brothers, cousins,” David said. “In our case, I had my brother, three cousins, an uncle and my dad, plus all of our friends that we grew up with.”
Another of his cousins, he pointed out, was chief of the town’s other fire department, Poquetanuck.
“It’s not unique to my family,” David continued. “It’s just the way it is — especially years ago.”
Before he joined the state police, Guiher — an Oil City, Pa., native — served in the Pennsylvania National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard. Afterward, he started a new career with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478. Guiher also served on several town boards and commissions and was a member of groups including the American Legion and the Connecticut State Police Alumni Association.
The elder Guiher’s career choices clearly rubbed off on his sons.
David said he knew from a young age he wanted to be a police officer — he spent several years with the Ledyard Police Department before retiring at the rank of sergeant in 2005. Now he works as the manager of public safety at The William W. Backus Hospital.
According to David, Thomas quickly gravitated toward the operating engineers union, from which he soon will retire. And Guiher’s grandson, Michael, has carried the torch as a full-time firefighter in Preston.
David described his upbringing as “nothing special.” Rather, it was typical of an older time, when everybody knew one another and the pace was slower. An example of that? When Guiher remarried in 2007, it was to a woman named Margaret Fleming — a woman whose son and nephews David had spent countless hours with in his youth. That’s the way it works in a small, close-knit town like Preston, David said.
Guiher “put 100 percent into making the town a better community and leaving his mark on the town,” David said. “Not on purpose — that’s just the way he was.”
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