Keith and Libby Durie – 2016 Citizen of the Year Honorees
Keith and Libby’s Story
For as long as Keith and Libby Durie can remember, they’ve been helping people in some capacity.
Growing up in the 1950s-’60s, Keith came from a family of brave men. His father, Ira, was a World War II veteran and his grandfather, also Ira, owned a car dealership, Durie Motors in Hillsdale and served as a fireman on the Hillsdale Volunteer Fire Department. Keith was just 16 when he became a Woodcliff Lake fireman and was captain of the junior department for two years.
Meanwhile, in Libby’s household, she was the eldest of eight children – an experience she said “taught her a lot of responsibility.” Whether it was cooking food for sick neighbors or helping people out of a car after an accident on occasion, Libby never held back when running to someone’s aid.
“Helping out wasn’t foreign,” she recalled. “It was just something we did.”
Keith and Libby met at Pascack Valley High School in the late 1960s. Libby was one year older than Keith and met him through fellow student George Lucia, Sr. who was also a firefighter for the Woodcliff Lake Fire Department. Shortly after Keith graduated in 1971, the two married and had two boys, Raymond and Jason, who also became firemen as adults.
In 1973, Keith joined the Hillsdale Fire Department, which he was chief of three times between 1984 and 1997, while Libby joined the Ladies Auxiliary of Hillsdale, of which she was president numerous times.
“He has a brotherhood. We have a sisterhood,” said Libby of the organizations. “We’re here for one another.”
That year in 1973, Libby was part of the search team that the auxiliary organized when Joan D’Alessandro, a 7-year-old Hillsdale Girl Scout who was raped and murdered by a former high school science teacher, went missing after selling Girl Scout cookies in her neighborhood. Libby, who was Joan’s babysitter at the time, searched the wooded areas with other members of the auxiliary before the search was called off right before Easter Sunday when Joan’s body was found.
“I was a mother then,” recalled Libby, holding back tears. “I knew Joan as a loving, open child that met such a tragic end.”
1980’s to the Present
The following decade, in the 1980s, Keith was also faced with frightening calls in his profession as a fireman. In May 1984 at around 5:30 a.m. Keith and the rest of the department were summoned to C.J. Mitchell’s (now Cornerstone Restaurant in Hillsdale) to extinguish a five-alarm blaze. The fire started from a lit cigarette on a bed on the second floor of the facility, which housed apartments. Keith said “multiple evacuations” were made that morning and one man, who had been sleeping, had suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns.
When he wasn’t putting out fires and helping to save lives, Keith was working as a car salesman at Durie Motors and then took a job as a mechanic for the Park Ridge Department of Public Works until 1981. That year, Libby kept busy by running a paper route for Community Life – one of the media sponsors for this year’s Citizens of the Year dinner.
As women in the work force became more of a norm, Libby pushed the envelope when she reached out to one of the coaches of the Hillsdale Hawks Football Association to offer her assistance warming the pee wee team up, which included conducting a check of their helmets and uniforms. It wasn’t long before she became a physical trainer for the team and the first female coach for the following four years. Apart from offering her services to the football players, she didn’t lose sight of her motherly side. For annual football dinners, Libby baked sheet cakes and decorated them with football helmets for the boys.
“I was the cake lady back then,” she recalls, jokingly.
In the early 1990s, Keith was tapped the superintendent of the Hillsdale Public Works Department. Despite having achieved much success, the couple returned to school that decade. Libby earned medical assistant certification at what is now Eastwick College in Ho-Ho-Kus and then became an Emergency Medical Technician and rode with the Hillsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Keith graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Certified Public Works Management and then from Passaic Community College a few years later with an associate’s degree in fire science.
In the mid-’90s, Libby served as president of both the Bergen County Ladies Auxiliary and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Firemen of the State of New Jersey while Keith served as the fire, zone and code compliance official for the Hillsdale Public Works Department as well as the borough’s recycling coordinator for six years up until 2014.
Currently, Libby works at Gastrointestinal Associates of New Jersey in Ridgewood. She is also the secretary and both a life member of the borough and the state’s auxiliaries. Keith is currently a life member of the New Jersey and New York Firemen’s Association, the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association and the New Jersey Exempt Firemen’s Association. Two years ago, Hillsdale officials named their home street “Durie Way” in the family’s honor.
When asked what receiving the award means to them, Libby said it’s just a part of their persona.
“I just do what I do because I enjoy helping people,” she said. “It’s in your blood.”