Claude Talford was the first command staff chief appointed during Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton’s administration. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Claude Talford, greatly loved by colleagues at the Memphis Fire Department, where he was a trailblazer during the administration of former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton, is one of the COVID-19 pandemic’s latest casualties.

After contracting the virus, Talbert was admitted to Baptist Memorial Hospital three weeks ago with issues related to respiratory distress. He died Thursday morning.

“I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support of friends, family and even strangers who have shared their love for Claude with us,” said his wife, Jane Venson-Talford.

“It has been a welcome reminder of how loving our fellow man can be, even in stark contrast to the hatred and negativity being displayed in our nation today.”

Venson-Talford is the daughter of Cotton Makers’ Jubilee Board Chair Clyde Venson, a human resource manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis-Memphis Branch. She is also president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter.

Claude Talford and his wife, Jane Venson-Talford. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

“My husband did not have to be a COVID-19 statistic,” said Venson-Talford, who has become an advocate for obeying Centers for Disease Control precautions and taking the vaccine.

“So much more could have been done to encourage community members to take safety precautions. I am hopeful that others will continue to participate in vaccine trials. This is so important. And, I will continue to encourage everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Talford joined the Memphis Fire Department as a private in 1979. He was voted top recruit of Probationary Class #55, the first African American to receive the honor. In March of 1989, Talford was promoted to lieutenant. In 1993, he served as acting battalion chief, before being promoted to the position in 1995.

In 2001, Talford was promoted to division chief. After one month, he was appointed to chief of emergency operations of the Memphis Fire Division. He was the first command staff chief appointed during Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton’s administration.

After attaining the rank of deputy director, Talford retired in 2004.

Talford’s daughter, Ashley Talford, 34, said her father was “compassionate, tender and extremely loving. He truly is my forever hero. I have no words when I try to sum up what he meant to me.

“He sacrificed so much to help make my goals and aspirations attainable. He taught me that great joy comes from great discipline and a commitment to excellence. I am so proud to be Claude Talford’s daughter, his fighter, his forever baby girl.”

Venson-Talford finds comfort in the fact that so many appreciated the man she loved.

“Claude was a man that never hesitated when duty called,” Venson-Talford said. “He has been a wonderful father, and husband, a great provider, a shining example and model citizen. He was always willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work that others thought was too hard or emotionally challenging.

“Claude was willing to always do what was right and for the right reasons. He never let the misunderstanding by others deter him. He loved with all his heart.”

Final arrangements are as follows: Wednesday, Jan. 13, a visitation is scheduled for 4 p.m.-6 p.m. at R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home, 2944 Walnut Grove Rd. The funeral service is Thursday, Jan. 14, at 11 a.m. at Brown Baptist Church, 7200 Swinnea Rd., Southaven, Mississippi.

Interment follows at Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis. Masking and social distancing will be strictly enforced.