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Loved ones lost: Remembering CNA and firefighter John Pope

  • John Pope — a Haydenville resident, CNA, and firefighter at the Williamsburg Fire Department — died of complications related to COVID-19 on May 3. SUMBITTED PHOTO

  • From left to right: Drew Morse, Andy Castillo, Paul Sanderson and John Pope. SUBMITTED PHOTO/WILLAMSBURG FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • John Pope, of Haydenville, a CNA and firefighter at the Williamsburg Fire Department, died of complications related to COVID-19 on May 3. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • John Pope, of Haydenville, a CNA and firefighter at the Williamsburg Fire Department, died of complications related to COVID-19 on May 3. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • John Pope, of Haydenville, a CNA and firefighter at the Williamsburg Fire Department, died of complications related to COVID-19 on May 3. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • John Pope, of Haydenville, a CNA and firefighter at the Williamsburg Fire Department, died of complications related to COVID-19 on May 3. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2020 3:51:44 PM

Editor’s note: The Gazette is highlighting some of the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. To send suggestions for future profiles, please email newsroom@gazettenet.com with the subject line, “Loved ones lost.”

HAYDENVILLE — “I’m still very healthy,” John Pope texted his sister Tammy Johnson in late April. He worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at CareOne at Northampton, a nursing home that has had more than 30 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the 125-bed facility, according to the state Department of Public Health. 

He was being safe at his job, he told his sister. “A lot of people here are sick, but I’m fine,” she recalled him saying. 

Pope had hypertension and diabetes, Johnson said, and he started feeling sick and tested positive for COVID-19 in late April. 

He lived alone in Haydenville, and his family checked up on him over the phone and through his window. Johnson talked to him over the phone several days after he tested positive for the virus.

“My breathing is fine,” her told her. “I don’t have a temperature. I feel like crap — no energy, chills, headache, the flu.” Around the same time, Pope told his employers that he was improving and that he wanted to return to work soon, CareOne said in a statement.

But on Sunday, May 3, Johnson couldn’t reach her brother. “I called and called and called, and finally, I said, ‘I’ve got to go find out what’s going on.’ I figured he was sick and sleeping and didn’t want to answer the phone,” she said. Johnson also lives in Haydenville, just a 10-minute walk from where her brother lived, so she went to his house. “I went up the stairs with my mask on and banged on the door and banged on the window and screamed his name. Still, nothing.”

Johnson went inside and found her brother unmoving. “I thought he was playing a trick on me. We used to try to scare each other,” she said. But it was real — Pope, 53, had died just six days after testing positive for COVID-19. 

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Johnson said. “It happened too quickly.”

As a CNA and a firefighter for the Williamsburg Fire Department, Pope dedicated his work to helping people. 

The lifelong Haydenville resident grew up across the street from the fire department, which he joined in 1996 and worked with for the next 24 years. “He was always a fixture for the 24 years he was on,” said Jason Connell, chief of the Williamsburg Fire Department.

The department is largely volunteer-based — members can decide when to help respond to calls, Connell said. The last call Connell remembers responding to with Pope was a car crash near the town’s post office. 

“At that call, he talked to a kid that lived near the accident, and that kid ended up joining as a junior fighter because of John,” Connell recalled. 

Pope worked at CareOne at Northampton in the post-acute care unit for more than a decade, according to a statement from CareOne.

“As one would expect from a veteran firefighter,” David Gontaruk, administrator of CareOne at Northampton, wrote in a statement, “John ranked among the rare individuals who, without exception, are prepared to run toward a ‘burning building’ situation rather than away. This is how we will always remember John Pope — as a friendly, fearless, loyal, and dedicated nurse’s aide who placed the needs of others ahead of his own.”

After Pope’s death, former patients with whom he worked as a CNA reached out to Johnson. “I had one of his patients text me and tell me how great he was and how he would come in with a smile and be positive,” she said. “He was just very caring person, and he loved helping people.”

Outside of work, Pope loved Civil War history, sports and cooking. “He cooked anything,” Johnson said. “He was a big spaghetti guy.”

She added, “He loved the Beatles — he had posters all over the walls of the Beatles.”

Connell remembered that Pope had a knack for remembering oddities. “He was also very knowledgeable about obscure stuff. I remember he could tell me baseball statistics from the ’40s and ’50s — that was always fun to listen to.”

He was also funny, Johnson said. “And he had a gargantuan laugh. He was always one to tell jokes.”

“Our favorite memory is when we got together, the family, at holiday times and sat around the table and played games and laughed,” she said. “He was very annoying at times as well, as siblings can be ... That was how he was — that’s John.”

If the family holds a celebration of Pope’s life when it’s safe to do so, the Williamsburg Fire Department has offered to drive his ashes in a firetruck, Johnson said, her voice wavering. “My brother would be so happy to hear that.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com. 


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