MVAA co-founder laid to rest

MIDDLEBURY — Emergency response officials from throughout the region turned out in full uniform on Thursday to celebrate the life of Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) founding member George “Wedge” Murdoch, who died May 22 after a long illness.

Murdoch, 76, was recalled by his colleagues as a dedicated and caring man with a wry sense of humor.

“He did things quietly, unless he had to make his voice heard,” said MVAA Executive Director Bill Edson, who jokingly referred to Murdoch as the “godfather” for his extensive experience and stewardship of the organization.

“It was remarkable that he kept continuous membership for more than 40 years,” he added.

Murdoch, whose nickname was derived from “Wedgeacres,” the family home in Weston, Conn., co-founded the MVAA in 1970 upon the recommendation of T. Richardson Minor, then assistant to the president of Middlebury College.

The first vehicle was a hearse donated by a local funeral parlor.

“It was black-on-black,” Murdoch recalled in a 1995 interview with the Addison Independenton the occasion of the MVAA’s 25th birthday. “We took it to Foster Motors to paint the outside  red and white, but it still had a black interior.”

Murdoch helped guide the MVAA through a fledgling period during which it was initially housed in the basement of the Middlebury municipal building. The organization would eventually move to a converted residence on Elm Street.

Murdoch was enthralled, his colleagues said, to see the MVAA recently move into its new, 11,860-square-foot headquarters off South Street that includes a four-bay garage to accommodate up to eight emergency response vehicles; a conference room, a training room, a second-floor storage area, offices, changing rooms, sleeping quarters for up to eight workers, kitchen facilities and a future dispatching office.

When Murdoch first started, the MVAA had a handful of volunteers. The organization now serves multiple Addison County communities and has dozens of volunteers and paid professional staff working with cutting-edge life-saving equipment.

Murdoch was along for much more than the ride.

“He held every position here during his years of service,” Edson said. “He was extraordinarily dedicated, and was the guardian of the spirit of this organization.”

That spirit is perhaps best epitomized by a quote from Murdoch in a 1999 article in the Addison Independent: “When you really give of yourself, you really get far more back.”

Former MVAA board President Michelle Perlee worked with Murdoch for 21 years.

“He was one of the people I admired and had great respect for,” Perlee said. “He was the heart of the MVAA.

“He certainly altered my heart; it will be a while before I get over (his death),” she added.

Perlee recalled Murdoch as being an encyclopedia of facts and an “invaluable asset to the MVAA and a great friend.”

Outside of work, which included employment as a registered nurse, Murdoch was very proud of his family, Perlee recalled.

“He excelled, and his children did as well,” Perlee said.

Paula Mayer has been an active member of the MVAA since 1989. Wedge Murdoch helped inspire her to join.

“He told me, ‘You would be good at it,’” Mayer recalled. So she took the requisite coursework and signed up. She worked with Murdoch on many assignments.

“He was a real character, with a great sense of humor,” Mayer said.

But among Murdoch’s best qualities, she said, were his compassion and concern for others.

If a patient could not be saved, Murdoch stressed that MVAA officials should reach out to family members instead of the alternative of giving them space.

“He said we should go up to them, say you’re sorry (for their loss), and give them a hug; something meaningful,” Mayer said.

Murdoch was very good at mentoring his younger colleagues throughout the years, MVAA officials said, whether it was about a medical technique or about ambulance driving. Murdoch in 2007 took home the first-ever Vermont EMS System Improvement Award, which recognizes a lifetime of adapting to, and implementing, new EMS technology for the benefit of patients.

“He taught us so many lessons over the years,” Mayer said. “He had the rare ability to combine both his clinical skills and personal interest to every case. Each patient, I believe, was really affected by him.”

Murdoch retired as an active MVAA member this past winter, but continued to serve the organization on its finance committee.

“He loved to check in with me to make sure I was pulling things in the right direction,” Edson chuckled, adding Murdoch was a patriotic person and “very proud of being a part of this organization.”

Murdoch’s funeral service was held on Thursday afternoon at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury. Attendees included a variety of local and statewide EMS and firefighting organizations. The Boston EMS Honor Guard led a procession from the church to the MVAA headquarters.

In a list of requests, Murdoch asked that at a reception after his funeral service “every effort be made to introduce a theme of present and past camaraderie to the event, rather than sorrow, and to this end I direct a plethora of hot and heavy hors d’oeuvres be offered.”

Mayer said she and other MVAA members are likely to come to terms with Murdoch’s death in two different ways in the days ahead.

“We will be laughing as we recall our memories, and crying because we have lost someone so special,” she said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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