Weekly Feature

2013-12-11 / Front Page

Gerry Clark, EMS visionary, dies at 81


Clark Clark To those who worked with Gerald “Gerry” Clark, he was more than just an emergency medical services visionary. He was also a friend. A mentor. And the patriarch of Twin City Ambulance, a company he saw not only as as his business, but as his family.

Sunday morning, Clark, 81, died at DeGraff Memorial Hospital. It was the place where, more than 50 years earlier, he started his company.

Clark, who was a resident of North Tonawanda for most of his life, was not just dedicated to growing Twin City Ambulance, but to investing in his employees. Employees returned this with their loyalty, and sometimes families had three or four generations who worked for the company.

“All of that is due to Gerry and the company and environment he created,” said Bryan Brauner, who is the chief executive officer with Twin City Ambulance, longtime employee of the company and friend of Clark’s.

“For me — and for everybody — Gerry was an absolute gentleman, devoted to the service of others. He was kind, strong and incredibly giving.”

In 1956, Clark, who spent his teenage years working in a factory, decided factory work wasn’t for him. At 24 years old, he emptied his savings account, borrowed money from his parents and, with the help of his friend, purchased Twin City Ambulance. The company was only a year old. It had two ambulances and four employees.

In exchange for his $18,000 investment, he received two 10-year-old ambulances and a small space to operate in DeGraff Memorial Hospital, which became the company headquarters. Clark and his small staff of three were determined to succeed.

They worked 24-hour days, seven days a week to keep the ambulances running. Care was minimal then, and he described the ambulances as little more than “horizontal taxis,” according to information on the Twin City Ambulance website.

As the industry improved, training became more standardized, and in 1985, Clark, who was 54 at the time, went back to school to become a paramedic. Despite never having graduated from high school, he succeeded in his studies. He continued to actively work in ambulances for more than 30 years, well into his 60s.

Nothing was too small for Clark to do at the place he loved.

“He would be at the station cleaning, building morale, constantly making coffee,” recalled Brauner. “It wasn’t unusual to be dispatching and have him walk in at 2 a.m.”

He was an avid chess player and often challenged, and beat, his employees in games. He also enjoyed playing the slot machines at casinos and collecting any unusual salt spoon he could find.

“But his real hobby was people,” said Brauner, “interacting with people — spending time with people he cared about.”

He also enjoyed playing jokes on new employees. New hires were always told Clark was not the owner of the company but its janitor. They would then ask him to get something from the stock room or clean something.

“He would always play along,” said Brauner, adding, “Everybody remembers him being interactive, never treating employees like employees. Everybody was family.”

When Clark’s death was announced on Facebook, a number of people shared their sadness at his passing and recalled stories of their time spent with him.

“Listening to him taught me so much about the business and how to deal with people,” wrote Scott Blake, a former employee. “Rest in peace, and have the coffee hot and chess board ready when I get there.”

Today, Twin City Ambulance employs more than 250 emergency medical service professionals, operates nearly 40 vehicles and annually responds to more than 50,000 calls. Additionally, it’s the only privately owned and operated ambulance company in the region.

The company will continue to be family-owned and community-oriented, said Brauner.

“We want to remain true to the things that mattered most to him,” he said.

Clark’s son, Terrence, is the president, and his daughter, Victoria Prince, the vice president. His wife, Patricia, is the chief financial officer. Both of Clark’s children are emergency medical technicians. He is also survived by five grandchildren.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here,” said Brauner, “who won’t think of Jerry without a smile on their face. He was just that kind of presence.”

Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Amigone Funeral Home, 2600 Sheridan Drive.

A prayer service will be held at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Amigone followed by a Mass at 9:30 a.m. at St. Christopher Church, 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd. Emergency services personnel are encouraged to attend in dress uniforms.

Donations in Clark’s memory may be made to either DeGraff Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, 445 Tremont St. North Tonawanda, NY 14120, or to The Franciscan Center, 1910 Seneca St. Buffalo, NY 14120.

email: nspencer@beenews.com

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