This is the first year that Gary Atherton, Director of Porter Regional Hospital’s Emergency Medical Services Department, did not coordinate his annual EMS Week Breakfast Banquet. It was always a day he dedicated to recognizing the merits of his staff. This time the EMS team spent their morning commemorating their leader, who passed away on January 13, 2016.
“He didn’t like us to make a big deal out of him,” said Dale Lanham, EMS Coordinator. “That is why it is so important for us to make a big deal.”
In memory of Atherton, each EMS vehicle got a new Star of Life badge. Atherton’s name, birth year, and 2016 are written on a black ribbon with a proud orange “1” behind it - Atherton’s number. “Go Sox!” was added at the bottom of the badge for a personal touch.
The entire EMS team and a crowd of other hospital employees gathered in front of Atherton’s EMS fleet to watch the unveiling of the badge and hear a few words about the man himself.
“This was his life,” said Denise Kerns, a Paramedic. “He was here for years. He ate, slept, and drank this job. And he meant so much to all of us.”
Lanham said, “One of the reasons I loved working here was because I enjoyed working for him. He was a leader. When he gave you a job, it was yours. He’d guide you, but he gave you the autonomy to do it yourself.”
Atherton was a pleasure to work with. He made jokes, honored his employees, and left them many quirks to look back on with laughter instead of tears. One friend recalled the strange music that came from his office - they played the same songs at this year’s banquet.
Mike Porter, the Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Services for Porter, spoke at Atherton’s memorial service and he did so again for the unveiling of the badges.
“In these last four months we know even more of what Gary did. We also know who he was to us and what he left us because we think, ‘What would Gary do?’ How many times have we thought about what he taught us,” Porter asked. “Yes, Gary is still with us.”
The badge was a collaboration between an entire staff of EMS personnel who felt Atherton’s touch on their lives. As a gift to them, the administration of Porter provided two more ways to remember him.
They renamed the ER road Gary Atherton and created the title “Medic 1” for future employees of his rank. His title was retired, since no one could possibly replace him.
When asked what he did for a living during a veteran interview, Atherton gave an answer that described his entire life:
“I now proudly serve as Director of EMS at Porter Regional Hospital.”