By Clark Judge
(March 25, 2023) — When a member of the Killingworth Ambulance Association’s Board of Directors voluntarily steps down, it’s usually no big deal. But it was this week.
That’s because Don McDougall was that member.
McDougall this week retired not only from the Board; he left the KAA after nearly 52 years of service – raising the bar for longevity to such an extraordinary height that it may never be eclipsed. One week short of his 89th birthday, he said physical limitations provoked him to make a difficult decision.
“This was tough,” he said at his last monthly board meeting. “When you do something for a long while, it becomes part of you. But I couldn’t climb the stairs when we were having meetings (at the KAA’s headquarters). So it was more because of physical problems than anything else.”
One of the KAA’s founding members in 1971, McDougall first began when the Association’s ambulance was a used 1964 Cadillac, emergency calls were relayed by telephone, and EMTs were first-aid trained. Only two years ago, he was honored at the KAA’s 50th anniversary dinner in October for – what else? — his 50 years of service.
“Fifty years?” said an incredulous Charlie Smith, first president of the KAA. “That’s got to be some kind of record for continuous and faithful service.”
It is. Only now it’s 51 years, eight months and five days. McDougall first began on July 17, 1971.
A mechanic who, in 1971, worked nights at Pratt and Whitney, he joined the KAA after answering a knock one afternoon on his front door. Standing in front of him was Marge Gaylord, a Board member of the newly formed Ambulance Association.
“She asked if I could help out with the ambulance,” McDougall said. “They were looking for somebody during the day, and I said, ‘Okay.’ There was a need at the time, and I felt I could help with that need. I never really thought about how long I’d be doing it. I just did it.”
Which pretty much sums up McDougall’s adult life. He spent part of the next 52 years as an EMT and most of them (by his count, an estimated 47 years) involved with the KAA’s Board of Directors. But that was then, and this is now … and now Don McDougall is retired from both positions.
“Don has a legacy of service to Killingworth that is amazing,” said Dan O’Sullivan, president of the Board. “He has served the town in many capacities, but just his service via the Ambulance Association is enough of a legacy. From being a founding member, serving as an EMT for many years and sitting 47 years on the Board of the Association, he has left a permanent impact on the town.”
“Don has a true volunteer spirit. He is not just on the Board; he is willing to perform whatever task is needed to move forward. He will be sorely missed at some point, but in the near term we know he will stay involved and help as long as he can.”
For the past 30 years, McDougall taught the KAA’s CPR course. In fact, he stood in front of four classes last year, all with the help of former EMT Pat Miller, one of three new directors named to the Board on March 22nd. Miller served on the Board seven years ago before stepping down.
“He was a mentor for me in teaching CPR,” Miller said, “and we worked together as a team for a number of years. We complement each other well. I’m going to miss him (on the Board), but I hope he’s not planning on leaving me.”
He’s not. He and Miller are scheduled to head a CPR class in Killingworth at the end of March.
“I’ll probably help with the paperwork,” McDougall said, “and get everything set up if she needs help with the CPR.”
McDougall also will continue to head the KAA scholarship committee. Other than that, however, a life largely spent in and around the Killingworth Ambulance Association is about to change.
“What will I miss the most?” he was asked. “The companionship, I guess. The people there do a lot, and I enjoyed it.”
As happened two years ago when he was feted at the KAA’s 50th anniversary celebration, McDougall was presented with a cake – this time a yellow half-sheet cake – that he shared with Board members. It included depictions of an ambulance, the KAA logo and an inscription that read:
“We could never thank you enough for the countless ways you have served your community with the KAA for more than five decades. Your commitment and dedication to this organization will remain legendary. You have been an inspiration to so many who have come after you. While we are sad to see you step down, we certainly hope you are not leaving us. You will be missed, and you know you will always be a part of our ‘family.’ Please accept the heartfelt gratitude and best wishes from your many friends.”
Photos by Clark Judge