Years of de­vo­tion

Ger­ald Hil­lier lives life pro­vid­ing for his com­mu­nity

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL - BY KYLE GREENHAM

The North­ern Pen’s re­cur­ring fea­ture looks at the lives of se­niors along the North­ern Penin­sula and south­ern Labrador. If you know a lo­cal se­nior with an in­ter­est­ing story to tell, email or call the North­ern Pen.

ST. LU­NAIRE-GRI­QUET, NL – At 75 years old, Ger­ald Hil­lier has lived a life de­voted to work­ing for his com­mu­nity.

Through his years of ser­vice as an am­bu­lance driver, school bus con­trac­tor, fire chief, coun­cil­lor and mayor, Hil­lier says he loves noth­ing more than to per­se­vere and pro­vide. “I love it,” Hil­lier said. “The hard­est day I get is the best day I can sleep.”

The wa­ter­line

From his decades of work, Hil­lier says his proud­est ac­com­plish­ment re­mains the wa­ter­lines he brought to St. Lu­naire and Gri­quet in the late sev­en­ties, when 12,000 feet of pipe was laid down by 20 work­ers over a sin­gle sum­mer, bring­ing run­ning water to the taps of 62 homes.

The project was a shin­ing suc­cess Hil­lier looks back on fondly, but at the time suc­cess was not al­ways cer­tain.

“Peo­ple were say­ing, ‘Ger­ald b’y, you’re wast­ing some money’,” said Hil­lier. “Well, I said, if it is wasted it wouldn’t be the first time.

“I came up with a plan to have work start at six in the morn­ing with 10 peo­ple, with that first shift end­ing at 12 that day. And then the new shift will go on, and we’ll work till eight that night.

“So that’s what we done, we worked 16 hours a day. Started in May, and we fin­ished in Novem­ber with ser­vices lines and ev­ery­thing.”

Hil­lier him­self worked many full 16-hour shifts, con­tribut­ing all he could to take the com­mu­nity away from the days of pump wells and buck­ets.

The fol­low­ing year a sim­i­lar project went ahead to fur­ther wa­ter­lines in the towns of St. Lu­naire and Gri­quet, as well as Camel Is­land and the Dark Tickle area.

“When I fin­ished we had run­ning water in ev­ery home,” he said. “Ev­ery­one was re­ally pleased when we turned it on, peo­ple had water that had never had it in their life.”

While coun­cil was wait­ing for the go-ahead on bring­ing a wa­ter­line to Camel Is­land, over 4,000 feet of hose was hooked up to a line in Gri­quet that was brought over hill to sup­ply water for the whole of Camel Is­land.

“We had it there a year and a half be­fore the wa­ter­line went down,” said Hil­lier. “In the fall and win­ter, it would freeze up and the hose was full of ice. We’d take it out, and shake it and take the ice out bit by bit. That’s all we could do at the time.”

Hil­lier also helped se­cure $1.2 mil­lion for a pump house and $30,000 for a gen­er­a­tor to en­sure the homes could be kept with run­ning water dur­ing power out­ages

Even to this day, those lines laid down nearly 50 years ago re­main in func­tion­ing use.

Chief and driver

In 1972, Hil­lier be­came fire chief for St. Lu­naire. At the same time, a new am­bu­lance had come to the town. On a Sun­day evening a knock came to Hil­lier’s door and he was asked to be the am­bu­lance driver. He ac­cepted and was handed the keys.

Hil­lier re­mained am­bu­lance driver for 32 years.

“I’ve spent more time sleep­ing on the chairs of the hos­pi­tal wait­ing room in St. An­thony than I have in my own bed,” said Hil­lier, rem­i­nisc­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ences driv­ing the am­bu­lance.

Dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly rough win­ter night, Hil­lier was called while at church to come to Quir­pon to bring a de­ceased man to the hos­pi­tal.

“As an am­bu­lance driver, you don’t know any­body’s sick till you get dirty weather,” he said. “I called the plow and said, ‘I’ve got a pa­tient in Quir­pon I got to get to St. An­thony.’”

Leav­ing in the am­bu­lance at 9 p.m., he trav­elled be­hind the plow through blow­ing snow and icy con­di­tions to Quir­pon. They did not get to the hos­pi­tal till 3 a.m. “It was snowed up, iced up, that dirty we could not se ahead of us,” said Hil­lier.

Hil­lier was also a school bus driver and con­trac­tor. In his 45 years in the busi­ness, he owned six dif­fer­ent school buses for com­mu­ni­ties like Raleigh, Ship Cove, Quir­pon and Noddy Bay.

“I drove four gen­er­a­tions of young­sters to school,” Hil­lier said proudly.

“In my 45 years of driv­ing the school bus, I hauled the mom, the mom’s daugh­ter, the daugh­ter’s daugh­ter and her daugh­ter’s daugh­ter.”

Years of de­vo­tion

Hil­lier has six chil­dren, 11 grand­chil­dren and five great­grand­chil­dren. He has come back on coun­cil as chair, mayor and coun­cil­lor sev­eral times. He even tried to get back on coun­cil in the most re­cent elec­tion, but lost out just by a cou­ple votes.

Now com­ing up on his 76th birth­day, and with so much hard work and ded­i­ca­tion be­hind him, Hil­lier is still as ac­tive as ever, do­ing what­ever he can to pro­vide and con­trib­ute.

“I’m in ex­cel­lent, tip-top shape,” he said. “I walk five kilo­me­ters a day, and am in the gym ev­ery week.

“I’m just ex­cited to go wher­ever I’ve got to go.”

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Ger­ald Hil­lier holds up just one ex­am­ple of his many past ac­com­plish­ments. Through his 75 years, Hil­lier has been a mayor, coun­cil­lor, fire chief, am­bu­lance driver and school bus driver.

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Ger­ald Hil­lier drives through the roads of St. Lu­naire-Gri­quet, point­ing out and rem­i­nisc­ing on his ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment of bring­ing run­ning water through much of the com­mu­nity and sur­round­ing area.

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