CHAPEL HILL – Former Chief of the South Orange Rescue Squad Ray deFriess died Monday of cancer at the age of 60. Chief of the Chapel Hill Fire Department Dan Jones said that deFriess will be remembered for his dedication and more than 40 years of service to our community.
“Ray is going to be very, very missed by a lot of us for a very long time. He is just that kind of person you don’t ever forget,” Jones said.
A native of Rochester, New York, deFriess moved to Chapel Hill in 1960.
After graduating from Chapel Hill High School in 1971, deFriess became one of the founding members of the South Orange Rescue Squad located in Carrboro. He served as Chief from 1984 until 2004, and remained with the squad until earlier this year, even while battling cancer.
“I don’t think there was a special event in this community, Chapel Hill or Carrboro in the last 30 years, whether it was a Fourth of July or a Final Four Celebration or a football game or a UNC basketball game or a Halloween that Ray wasn’t there as part of the EMS coverage,” Jones said.
Current Chief of the South Orange Rescue Squad Matthew Mauzy said deFriess enjoyed working with UNC students during EMT training.
“The number of members who have come through the doors of South Orange Rescue Squad either as community members, or as students that have gone on to be doctors, nurses and physicians assistants,” Mauzy said. “I would guess, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many lives he affected.”
Jones said that deFriess was known for his swift response time in emergency situations.
“He could get to any part of that stadium faster than the young crews that were assigned in that section of the stadium could get there. And it was always a marvel to us,” Jones said. “We couldn’t figure out how he knew where to get in that stadium faster than anybody else, but he could.”
When Jones joined moved to the area in 1990, he said deFriess served as his mentor. Known for his warm and welcoming personality, deFriess was often spotted wearing suspenders, even under his uniform.
“Another thing he was known for was saying, ‘All right.’ He had a way of saying it that it didn’t matter what we were dealing with or what the situation was—if it was a big winter storm—he’d go, ‘All right.’”
One of deFriess’ favorite things to do was to cook for his friends and family. Jones said that during his later years of service, deFriess would often grill for all of the responders on duty.
DeFriess is survived by his wife of 29 years, Pamela deFriess; his daughter, Natalie deFriess Rigsbee; and his son, Jonathan Ray deFriess.
The funeral service will be on Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Cane Creek Baptist Church in Hillsborough.
In lieu of flowers, the deFriess family asks that donations be made to:
South Orange Rescue Squad
202 Roberson Street
Carrboro, NC 27510
Youth of Cane Creek Baptist Church
6901 Orange Grove Road
Hillsborough, NC 27278