EASTHAMPTON — Those who knew and loved Trevor Wadleigh say they weren’t at all surprised to hear he died the way he lived — helping others.
Wadleigh perished when a fire rapidly engulfed a Holyoke apartment building on New Year’s morning, killing three and displacing 49. But before he did, he woke his friend Milton Galarza and his pregnant wife and ushered them to the safety of their window ledge, where they were saved by a ladder truck.
Then, Wadleigh ducked back into the flames that had already claimed much of the apartment. Those closest to him say he almost certainly went to fetch his beloved Boston terriers, Sal and Gala, whose bodies were recovered alongside his own.
“I always knew he’d be willing to die for them if he had to,” said his sister Karen Wadleigh of Easthampton. “I just never thought he would have to.”
Trevor Wadleigh, 34, worked as a cook at Riff’s in Easthampton at the time of his passing. In addition to brothers, sisters, and friends, he leaves his son TJ, who turns 4 later this month. The two others who died in the fire were Maria Cartagena, 48. and Jorge Munoz, 55. The married couple lived together in the North East Street building.
Those close to Wadleigh remember the way he loved to cook and go fishing. They remember how he loved his dogs. They remember his selflessness and his silliness.
“He was an amazing guy,” said Joseph Faille, who worked with him at Riff’s and spent Thanksgiving with him. “Every day he’d show up, he’d be in a pleasant mood, he’d cheer everybody up that he worked with. He had an amazing sense of humor. Everybody loved him.”
The family set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds both for funeral expenses and for his son.
Across the board, friends and family say he was “a people person.”
“If Trevor was in your life, you know he would always be happy to see you, always be willing to talk to you, to help you,” said his sister Kelley Frye, of Virginia. “If he loved you, he wanted to cook for you and make you laugh. He would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it.”
Originally from eastern Massachusetts, Wadleigh moved to the area a little over a year ago. He came to stay with his sister as he reeled from divorcing his son’s mother.
“He was trying to pick up the pieces after his divorce, rebuild his life, get back on his feet,” Karen Wadleigh said. “He was definitely struggling with some depression, but he maintained a good attitude and remained optimistic.”
Karen said “he came here and he only knew me,” but that soon changed.
“Next thing he knew he had a clutch of buddies,” she said. “He made friends everywhere he went — he was very charismatic.”
She said the family will skip the “sad-sack, hyper-depressive” funeral, and will instead throw a party and memorial service for his birthday, on May 4. Karen said he had already begun concocting plans for his 35th birthday.
“He was looking forward to it, kind of looking at it as a new beginning,” she said. “He did want to make big plans. Unfortunately, this is what they’re going to have to be.”Through the years
Trevor Wadleigh, the youngest son of Harold Wadleigh and Kim Oppenheimer, was born in Newton in 1982. The family moved around a lot, but former classmates in Westborough Public Schools remember him fondly.
“In school sometimes there’s little groups of friends and little cliques, but he was always kind of above that, I think,” Katherine Park Deakin said. “He just always made everyone feel welcome.”
Deakin said even though she didn’t always remain in touch with Wadleigh, his “beautiful blue eyes that could almost see through you,” his kindness and sharp wit made a lasting impression.
“He was a very, very special person,” she said. “It just doesn’t surprise me at all that he died in the way that he did, helping other people. When you talk to him you just feel like in a split second if there was a decision he would do the honorable thing.”
Deakin said they met up several years ago as adults.
“I didn’t realize how depressed I was at that time, but looking back, there was no way he could have known, but it was as if he knew I needed a friend at that moment,” she said of the meal they shared in 2009. “He had an extra sense to know when people needed him most, and he would be there.”
David Seaman, who worked as a system-wide music teacher for Westborough Public Schools vividly recalls a “remarkable” incident in which Wadleigh — then in eighth grade — did what most adults would be unable to do. A fight broke out in the school cafeteria, he said, and a large, troubled boy hurled a chair through a window. As everything erupted into chaos, the boy fled the room. And Seaman said Wadleigh followed.
He said the troubled boy was laughing, talking with Wadleigh, who had watched him be publicly humiliated by a teacher in the class before lunch. Seaman said Wadleigh had seen a hot dog thrown at him before he got angry and threw the chair.
“Trevor was soothing him, making him laugh, but mostly making him feel normal and of value — something that Trevor knew we all needed,” Seaman said. “This was the sort of altruism Trevor was known for.”Coming of age
When he was 18, Wadleigh lost his mother to breast cancer. Later, in 2011, he lost his father to lung cancer. Throughout his adult life, he bounced around in restaurant jobs. Always the jokester, children loved him. His nieces and nephews loved story time because he put on funny voices, and they said he did a mean “sad trombone.” Karen Wadleigh explained that somehow Trevor could manipulate his voice to sounding like a muted trumpet.
“He was always trying to lighten the mood, even if it was already light,” she said.
After moving to the area, Trevor met Jennifer Nye and soon after he moved into her Easthampton home. They dated for nine months before breaking up in August.
Nye is a single mom, and she said Wadleigh and her 12-year-old daughter Cheyenne hit it off from the start.
“We always had our jokes that my mom didn’t understand,” Cheyenne Nye said.
Jennifer said that although the two split a few months back, she’ll never forget his kindness and his sense of humor.
“You couldn’t think of anything bad to say about him, even if you try,” she said.
“He was too good to be true.”
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This has story has been updated.