Submitted by Clark Judge.
Most people don’t remember where they were or what they were doing 50 years ago this weekend.
Don McDougall is not most people.
Ask him what happened on July 17, 1971, and he’s ready with a response: He answered his first call for the Killingworth Ambulance Association, transporting a patient who’d been stung by a bee to a nearby Middlesex Hospital clinic.
So why is that noteworthy? Because 50 years later, Don McDougall – now 87 — is still connected with the KAA. He serves on its board of directors.
“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.”
Maybe. Probably. Nobody is sure. It doesn’t matter to the taciturn McDougall, who’s spent much of his life volunteering in Killingworth. He’s been on the KAA board of directors for three decades and didn’t quit serving as an EMT until he turned 80.
“Time flies,” he said. “I don’t even think about it.”
Until, that is, you ask him about his first ambulance experience. Then it all comes back in detail. After taking a phone call from the Clinton dispatch, he jumped into his tan ’64 Plymouth Valiant and rushed to pick up the KAA ambulance – a used 1964 Cadillac bought earlier that year in Greenwich for $3,000.
Then it was off to Stevens Road, home of the victim, where he was joined by attendant Romanie Klein-Robbenhaar. Together they loaded the patient on to a stretcher and hoisted her into the back of the ambulance. Then they drove away, with McDougall at the wheel.
“The big thing I remember that day,” he said, “is the kids crying when we put their mother in the ambulance.”
There were three of them. Two girls, ages 5 and 6, and a small boy who was 3-1/2.
“I guess they were scared,” said Sue Browne.
She would know. She’s their mother. She was also the patient, summoning the ambulance after experiencing an adverse reaction to a bee sting. First, she said, she started itching. Then she broke out in hives. Soon, she became disoriented and had to sit down, settling into a recliner when the ambulance was called.
“It was unusual,” she said. “I was kinda out of it. I didn’t realize how serious things were.”
Nevertheless, she remembers the ambulance arriving … and a stretcher transporting her from her house … the kids outside … the ride to the clinic … and her release roughly one hour later after she was treated and cleared by physicians.
Like McDougall, she cannot forget.
“It’s a blessing that the ambulance showed up,” she said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it. They saved my life, and I’m very grateful.”
Today, she and McDougall’s wife, Marion, are what Browne calls “the best of friends.” The two get together on Mondays to play cards, join in Scrabble or work on crafts, and for years their husbands regularly joined them for Saturday dinners following church.
Then COVID hit. That marked one of the few interruptions in McDougall’s last 50 years.
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, ‘OK.’ 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 worked 30 years at Pratt and Whitney, becoming the maintenance supervisor before leaving at the age of 58. “Looking for something to do,” as he put it, he took an income tax course at H&R Block and became a part-time accountant. He did that for 25 years. He was an assistant scout leader with the Boy Scouts. He hiked the 273-mile Long Trail, running the length of Vermont. He did it three times. He just returned from his second camping trip this summer. He’s the town’s Emergency Operations Manager, working with the Emergency Operations office the past 25 years. He volunteers with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Now he observes his silver anniversary with the KAA.
In short, Don McDougall has never stopped.
“I can tell you why I do a lot of this,” he said. “I had a friend that retired, and all he did was go to the refrigerator and get a beer, sit down and watch TV and then go out and pick up the mail. He did that for a couple or three years, and he died. He didn’t do anything. When I retired, I just couldn’t sit around do nothing. I had to do something.”
He’s still doing it.
“Why?” he said. “Because I can, I guess. If you can’t do anything, what are you living for?”