Barry Doyle fed the bellies of Wake County firefighters for almost 25 years. Now the foundation started by him will feed their minds.
Doyle died about 18 months ago, but the legacy he created with Feed the Firefighters Foundation lives on. The nonprofit he started in 1994 to provide meals at the scenes of fires, wrecks and natural disasters has evolved to provide scholarships for first responders. His wife, Denise, and daughter Catherine are carrying on the work he started.
Tuesday they made the first contribution of $25,000 to a scholarship fund that will help first responders further their educations. Firefighters from Raleigh, Cary, Swift Creek and Fairview gathered at Barry’s Cafe in the Swift Creek Shopping Center on Jones Franklin Road in West Raleigh to celebrate his legacy.
“We don’t often think about what these men and women do for us,” Denise Doyle said. “Barry was big on education. I know he is smiling down on us right now because he wants y’all to continue growing as individuals. We look forward to helping you continue your education.”
She said the first scholarship would go to someone in Wake County next spring.
“There are firefighters who want to become lieutenants,” she said. “There are people who want to become firefighters or first responders. They need at least an associate’s degree. We want to help them with their education.”
The cafe, with its distinctive firefighter motif, is the headquarters for Feed the Firefighters. Fire helmets and photos hang on the walls. Model firetrucks sit in the front window. Shoulder patches from fire departments around the country dot a map of the United States in the back dining room.
The firefighters who attended the ceremony swapped stories about times Doyle showing up in the middle of the night with hot food: sausage biscuits, hamburgers and cheeseburgers.
Doyle got his start in 1994 by providing coffee and biscuits to worn-out firefighters at the Swift Creek Fire Department during an ice storm early that year. The station was across the street from his restaurant. Firefighters started frequenting the cafe and spreading the word about Doyle’s generosity. He would show up anywhere in Wake County there was an emergency.
Raleigh Lt. Tony Todd remembered a fire on Millbrook Road when Doyle rolled up in his Feed the Firefighters truck. Todd, who began his career as a volunteer in Zebulon, said he first encountered Doyle while on a call in the eastern part of the county.
“It was like seeing Jesus coming,” Todd said. “It meant so much to have him bring food to us when we were on a call.”
Another firefighter remembered Doyle coming to the scene of the December 1994 crash of an American Eagle commuter jet in Morrisville.
But over the years, the calls to Doyle slowed as fire departments could buy their own food after a call, said Bryant Woodall, a retired Raleigh fire chief and a foundation board member. Doyle’s health also had declined.
“We appreciated all that he did for us,” Woodall said. “There was a time when we couldn’t stop in at a fast-food restaurant afterward because we had no way of paying for it. Barry took care of us when he showed up. When we got procurement cards, it was more about not wanting to bother him in the middle of the night.”
The March 17, 2017, fire in downtown Raleigh was one of the last times he responded to feed firefighters. That blaze, which destroyed an apartment building being built near Glenwood South and damaged other buildings nearby, is considered the largest fire in Raleigh’s history. About a month later, Doyle died from complications associated with neuropathy.
Jack Fritz, another board member, said the foundation has a bright future.
“Barry always had other ideas,” Fritz said. “He was an expansive thinker and we considered other ways we could support the heroic work Feed the Firefighters continues to do. So here we are today, moving into phase two. It’s not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new chapter.”