It was a Tuesday night when George Tufte’s niece asked him a simple question, “Uncle George, is there anything you wish you did differently in life?” And in true George-fashion he proceeded to tell her the story of his life.
George Steven Tufte was born and raised in Staten Island, NY, where he lived most of his life. On his high school graduation day, Tufte told the town that he wanted to “join the navy and go somewhere warm.” Wouldn’t you know it, he served in the Navy for 2 years and was stationed in Jacksonville, FL.
Two memories stood out to him the most from his time in the Navy. One was the time a man with no pants and helicopter propellor tattoos on his behind walked in front of him up the ladder. The other was when his friend declined his invitation to the movies. The year was 1956 and his African American companion was not allowed in that theater. Tufte never understood why.
After joining the Navy reserves as a petty officer first class, he found his calling at the New York City Fire Department. For years, he fought fires on the first Aerial ladder truck in New York, covering all five boroughs.
Tufte was known for many things. First was the weathered FDNY hat he wore everywhere he went. Second was the camera he always had in his hand. That camera came in handy as he was assigned to FDNY’s Photo Unit, photographing everything from arson to the horrible tragedy of 911.
In 1984, he received permission from the fire department to publish a book of his photos. Entitled F.D.N.Y. in the Bravest Tradition: A Pictorial Report on Firefighting, the book contains 184 pages of his most meaningful photos. Though no longer in print, collectibles are available on Amazon.
Tufte concluded his last seven years with the department investigating arsons as a fire marshal. After retiring in 1995, he continued serving his community as a driver for the Visiting Nurse Association of Staten Island, driving their 40-foot mobile unit. His love for driving became a hobby as he drove many people all over the country for anything they needed.
In 2020, he and his family fulfilled his life-long dream of moving to Florida, bringing him back to the warm, sunny days that he once prayed for his senior year of high school. On June 4, 2022, George Tufte peacefully passed away surrounded by his loving family.
Tufte was always known for his stories, and his entire life was his favorite story of all. On that Tuesday night, he looked at his niece and smiled, “No,” he replied, “I’ve done everything I’ve ever dreamed of.”