Funeral services for a conservation officer who died last week drew hundreds to North Conway on Saturday. Police, firefighters, the governor, state officials and others went to celebrate the life of Sgt. Brian Abrams.
Green trucks fill the parking around the Congregational Church in North Conway.
Just outside the church door a row of 30 men stand at attention.
Each man wears a red jacket, green pants tucked into their boots, a Stetson and white gloves.
A crowd is growing, but the men remain silent.
They are conservation officers, the state’s game wardens, members of Fish and Game’s law enforcement division.
And they are here to honor one of their own.
Sergeant Brian Abrams, decorated conservation officer and forty-nine-year-old father of two, died last week.
The well-liked and highly-respected game warden suffered a serious head injury in an off duty motorcycle accident.
Abrams spent two days at Maine Medical Center but never woke up.
He died on Tuesday.
“We come together today to mourn the loss of Brian. To share the grief that we all feel, and perhaps in that sharing, to bare our sorrow, and the courage to look for hope.”
Conservation officer Alex Lopashanski delivered the eulogy.
“What we say today about Brian is only an inadequate expression of what we carry in our hearts. Words pale in the shadow of grief. They are insufficient to measure the memory of someone so well-loved and respected.”
Abrams spent more than two decades patrolling the mountains, woods and waters around North Conway.
His was a familiar face to hunters and fishermen, and a savior to lost hikers and skiers.
Bear problems? Call Brian.
Hit a moose? Call Brian.
He went on almost every search, every rescue, since 1991.
He gained a reputation was for leading with a smile rather than his badge.
He was a guide and a teacher as much as a cop.
“I had the privilege of working alongside Brian. It did not take long for me to realize this piece of the state was his. When I’d approach people in the field they’d say, ‘Hey Brian, how’s it going?’ They always expected it to be him. I thought that it would stop after a few years, but it has not.”
The crowd is littered with uniforms, and not just red ones.
There are the white, black, blue and brown of police and game wardens from as far away as New Jersey.
There is the tan of U.S. Forest Rangers, the reds and yellows of mountain rescue teams, the blues and whites of firefighters, even camouflage.
Then there are the suits and dresses of the community he served.
The church is overflowing.
Speakers broadcast the service to the lawn.
Rows of chairs line the grass for the mourners who can’t fit inside.
Abram’s brother Dennis is shocked by the turnout.
“I had no idea how many lives he touched until last night.”
A glance at Abrams file, however, makes it clear.
The file is full of commendations.
In 2003 he saved the life of a stranded cross country skier.
He hiked eight miles through snow and below-zero temperatures to find him.
The man would have died without Abrams.
But throughout his career Abrams was always quick to spread credit.
In 1997 a reporter asked him about being named conservation officer of the year.
He immediately pointed to the volunteers groups.
‘They’re the people who make us look good,’ he said.
That was Brian, friends say.
He became a conservation officer so he could help people, even if it put his life at risk.
Former lieutenant Doug Gralenski.
“Brian was a courageous man. A man who possesses the mental makeup to act with courage is a man whose spirit is at peace. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace. They find rest as they lie in death. Brian was an upright man. I know he has found peace.”
Abrams is still saving lives.
When he died he donated his organs.
Four people are alive today as a result.
Four, and countless others.
“I want close with Brian’s own words. In his list of final wishes he wrote: ‘Smile, and remember, I was truly the luckiest man in the world.”