GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As Rich Brenner was making a speech at the Red Cross Salute to Heroes event in Greensboro Monday night, some of those in attendance noticed something wrong.
Jim Guidone, chairman of the board for the Greensboro chapter of the American Red Cross, said Rich was having trouble breathing while talking about one of his many charity projects. Jim got Rich to head backstage.
"We sat him down. The coughing did not subside at all. It got worse," Jim said.
There were many paramedics and firefighters in attendance, as one might expect from an event saluting everyday heroes.
The first typical "first responder" to help was Skip Nix, Greensboro's assistant fire chief and a personal friend of Rich's.
"Rich, being Rich Brenner, started thanking everybody for helping him," Skip said. "That's not a normal response on the calls we go on, but he immediately thanked everybody for assisting him....What was amazing is right before we put him on a stretcher he wanted to stop and wait to go to the hospital after the program. And we would not allow that."
Skip said Rich requested that because he didn't want to interrupt the program. Still, Skip said he thought Rich would make it as he left in an ambulance.
"One of the firefighters even said that Rich even shook the hand of the doctor who came in to treat him at the hospital," Skip said.
But as with the rest of the Piedmont, he heard about Brenner's death Monday night.
"I was devastated along with many, many, many people," Skip said.
As Rich and Skip were both U.S. Marines, Skip chose to remember him through the Marine Corps Hymn--but from a section different from the famous "shores of Tripoli" line.
"The last four lines of the third stanza of the Marine Corps Hymn says, 'If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven's scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.' And I told them it's hard for me to not believe that as soon as he gets there it's, 'Whose spot can I take? I'm ready to assume guard duty.' Because that's who he was. That's who he was."
"He was mentoring people all the time," Jim said. "He was helping people. He was a hero by any definition I have."
Friends who spent time with Rich Monday said he was his normal, vibrant self and displayed no indication he would have any health problems.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking people to donate to one of three charities close to Rich. Those are the Carolina Field of Honor with the War Memorial Foundation, Victory Junction and the UNC-Greensboro Rich Brenner Scholarship Fund.