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Philly's first female firefighter and first female cop to die in action now buried in same cemetery

Jerry Smith watched as Joyce Craig-Lewis was slowly lowered down into her final resting place.

The blustery December winds at the fallen firefighter's burial Saturday recalled another historic tragedy at which the superintendent of Ivy Hill Cemetery was present.

Smith rubbed his hands in the cold and then pointed at a hill in the distance: "We have the first female Philadelphia Police officer killed in the line of duty," he said. "She was buried in a blizzard."

Craig-Lewis has company. The first female firefighter to die in the line of duty was buried in the same cemetery that 18 years earlier laid to rest Philadelphia’s first female police officer killed in the line of duty.

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Smith spun back: "You could call it an honor," he said.

Craig-Lewis died fighting a West Oak Lane house fire last week at the age of 36. She left behind a 16-month-old daughter and a 16-year-old son.

Lauretha Vaird was gunned down responding to the scene of bank robbery in Feltonville on Jan. 2, 1996. The 43-year-old left behind two sons, ages 11 and 17.

Dave Drysdale, the cemetery's secretary treasurer, was the superintendent when Vaird was laid to rest.

"It was a sad day," he added. "It's a tragic thing. Everybody that comes in here is not real happy to see us."

A firetruck draped in black and led by a police motorcade carried Craig-Lewis' casket to the Mt. Airey cemetery from the Broad Street funeral home. She was greeted at the cemetery entrance by twin firetrucks with a movie-screen-sized American flag stretched between their upright ladders.

During the ceremony, bagpipes played Amazing Graze and an honor guard played taps.

Family and city officials huddled around a green tent, while a group of about 100 civilians formed a crowd just beyond the gravesite, shivering in the wind.

Vaird was buried on Jan. 13. A new date, the original, days before, canceled because of the blizzard.

"It was snowing," Drysdale said of Jan. 13. "They were going to bring the horses out, but they couldn't because the weather was bad. They plowed the section, plowed the streets all the way down Cheltenham Avenue, curb to curb so they could get the funeral procession in."

Smith remembers the same cold as Saturday.

"It was almost the same type thing," Smith said. "All these cops here, the city came in and said, 'We'll bring in portable lights, we'll do whatever we have to.' It was really cold. This whole field was snow-covered"

Smith chose the burial plot for Craig-Lewis near the cemetery entrance. A focal point.

Her plot sits steps away from a marble monument to the city's fallen volunteer firefighters.

The Vaird tombstone, which sits on a hill just behind Craig-Lewis, features Vaird's historical title, an outline of her badge as well as the phrase: "Devoted police officer, loving mother."

At her funeral Saturday morning Craig-Lewis was regularly called a loving mother and devoted firefighter.

"Craig will probably have the same type of stone," Smith said. "That's history."

Remembering Vaird

In January 2014, on the Officer Down memorial page, retired Sgt. Cindy Castle posted the following message:

"Laurie, on this day, 18 years later, we still remember your sacrifice for this great city. I still remember your kindness to strangers, how dedicated you were to the citizens of the community you served. When you took a woman to PAB HQ's for an emergency protection order after your shift ended that night. I can't go over the events of Jan 2, 1996 without a deep sense of loss and regret that we couldn't do more to save your life. I know now that you are truly a special Angel of God, watching over us from above. Never Forgotten!"

 
 
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