Personal Best: At 74, ex-firefighter still runs to benefit city kids

Jim Gallagher may have no children of his own, but the native San Franciscan light-heartedly points out that he was instrumental in raising 14 siblings. He continues to devote much of himself to the welfare of The City’s kids.

At age 74 and retired from his “unusual” professional path, Gallagher remains involved with the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program. He’ll be participating in next Sunday’s Run Wild For A Child 5K/10K that benefits the firefighters’ annual toy drive.

“Unless something happens to my legs before then, I will be running the 5K,” Gallagher said.

Born at St. Mary’s Hospital on Stanyan Street in 1935 to Irish immigrant parents, Gallagher grew up in the Richmond district. He attended three high schools, not due to disciplinary or academic troubles, but to fit his work schedule.

Gallagher left St. Ignatius for Sacred Heart Cathedral as SH’s school day allowed him to report on time for his job on O’Farrell Street. He then opted for Washington High as it offered a program whereby students could attend school for four hours and work
for four.

Gallagher’s income helped to feed his 11 younger siblings — nine boys and three girls in all — as well as three foster children from the neighborhood.

As an undergraduate student at City College and San Francisco State, Gallagher continued to contribute to the household, tending bar at the Monkey’s End on Pacific and Van Ness avenues and the Pig’s Eye on Geary.

Shortly after graduating from S.F. State in 1962, Gallagher signed on with the fire department. He was assigned to a station located on Third Street; the firehouse has since closed and now serves as home for the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program.

In between fighting fires, Gallagher earned a master’s degree in psychology from S.F. State and a doctorate from UC San Francisco.

He taught at four colleges in San Francisco: City College, S.F. State, UCSF and USF. He strove to keep the two careers separate, but that didn’t stop his colleagues at the fire station from kiddingly referring to the humble Gallagher as “The Professor.”

At age 35, Gallagher discovered competitive running. It was the early 1970s and the running boom was hitting San Francisco. In 1974, he took third in his first marathon, 8½ laps around Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

Gravitating to shorter distances, in 1986 Gallagher broke the California Firemen’s Summer Olympics over-50 record in the 800 meters with a time of 2 minutes, 27.8 seconds.

Gallagher continues to run four miles, three days a week, but these days he prefers working out with weights.

“I benched 210 pounds yesterday,” he said proudly. “My hero is Jack LaLanne, who just celebrated his 95th birthday.”

San Francisco’s firefighters are certainly the heroes of the underprivileged kids whose holidays are brightened each year as a result of the thousands of donated toys collected from events such as next Sunday’s race in Golden Gate Park.

 

Run Wild for a Child 5K/10K

When: Nov. 29, 8:30 a.m.
Where: Golden Gate Park, John F. Kennedy Drive and Eighth Avenue
Benefits: San Francisco Firefighters Toy Drive
Info: www.rhodyco.com/runwild or (415) 759-2690

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