Bill Podmayer - Flight Nurse



At Wednesday's memorial service, Dr. Blake Stamper, owner of TriState CareFlight, posed a question about Bill Podmayer: "How do you define an icon?"  Hundreds of friends and family attempted an answer Wednesday afternoon, at a memorial service to the fallen flight nurse in Rotary Park .  With Podmayer's bearish grin evident in his face as he posed before the CareFlight helicopter, others remembered the fallen flight nurse for, above all, his zest for life.  Podmayer, his friends said, brought a unique enthusiasm to his favorite pursuits: softball, karaoke, skiing, margaritas, working and eating - especially eating .  "I know Bill touched each and everyone of you," said Judy Hill, Podmayer's widow. "Everyone mattered to Bill. Everyone was his patient. So let's party for Bill."  In honor of "Pod," who friends say tried to make life bright and jovial, staffer members from Mercy Medical Center wore Hawaiian shirts over hospital scrubs. Firefighters and paramedics traded uniforms for shorts and sandals.  "It was always a party scene with him," said friend Paul Gibson. "He was always casual, always happy."

As the aroma of barbecue drifted over the grassy park, friends and family stepped up to a microphone, one by one, to share memories.

Brother-in-law Edwin McGlew recalled a visit Podmayer made to his hometown of Hatfield , Mass. , where the flight nurse insisted on clamming for Quahogs despite a broken arm and dismal weather. Podmayer then charmed discouraged clammers to hand over their meager hauls.

"You know Bill schmoozed everyone," McGlew said. "So this one-armed clammer ended up with half a bucket of clams before he even got in the water."

Former patients also lauded Podmayer, 49, who worked for more than 20 years in Mercy's intensive care unit before joining the flight crew.

Ed Zink noted how he loved razzing the nurse, but Podmayer always one-upped him with kindness.

"One night, he said, 'I'm going off my shift, is there anything you need,'" said Zink. "I said, 'I've never seen 'Blazing Saddles.' Well, he worked his magic again and now I've seen 'Blazing Saddles.' He came back with a VCR."

Podmayer's nieces said he not only taught family members how to ski with his exhortations to "cut the ham" and "make a pizza," but he also inspired them to go to nursing school.

Co-workers remembered his potent margaritas and barbecues at softball games. And, everyone remembered his off-key crooning of Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier."

"There's no doubt in my mind you've already introduced yourself to half of heaven," friend Pat Page said, addressing Podmayer. "I'm also sure you've already secured yourself a high-ranking position on the social organizing board."

- Jesse Harlan Alderman, Durango Herald,  July 7, 2005

Flight Nurse Bill Podmayer 'always made it fun,' friends say.

The scouting report on Bill "Pod" Podmayer: Maybe he couldn't run, but as a jovial person whose heart was there for everyone, he was a big hit.

He was a people-oriented man who remembered your name after one meeting, family and friends said Saturday evening while recollecting Podmayer at the home he and wife, Judy Hill, shared since 1986.

Podmayer, 49, a flight nurse and longtime Mercy Medical Center employee, Scott Hyslop, 33, a firefighter and paramedic, and pilot Jim Saler, 40, died Thursday afternoon while on a Tri State CareFlight helicopter rescue mission just west of the La Plata Mountains . Their helicopter crashed while in the landing process.

All were highly respected. Podmayer considered Hyslop one of the best paramedics he'd known, Hill recalled, and he took Saler skiing last winter.

"He loved those guys," Hill said.

Mostly, the group at Hill's house shared laughs, remembering the wacky things Podmayer would do, such as his annual off-key rendition of "Buffalo Soldier" during infamous "Bill and Wally" parties at the Iron Horse Inn. But tears flowed as well.

Hill, an emergency room nurse at Mercy, recalled getting the news Thursday that the helicopter had gone down. Then, the wait.

"That was the longest hour of my life," she said, breaking down as a friend consoled her. The news came: Three on board, three fatalities.

Podmayer knew the risks of the CareFlight job, which he began last August. But the fact he died on duty, trying to help an injured person, is small consolation, said Paul "Wally" Gibson, a CareFlight program director and Mercy emergency room paramedic.

"It wasn't the right time for Bill," Gibson said. "He had way too much more to accomplish. He had way too many lives to touch."

He healed people through humor, friends and family said. During his days working in Mercy's intensive care unit, "Pod" left an impression on patients. Other nurses might have done the bulk of the care, but patients still remembered Podmayer, co-workers said with a touch of irony. Patients would send letters and gifts, and typically the card would say: "Thank you so much Bill and other staff."

Podmayer grew up in Hatfield, western Massachusetts . His mother, Ethel, was a nurse, and his baseball coach was a male nurse - not so typical in the 1960s. At 19, Podmayer became a licensed nurse - the youngest in Massachusetts at the time.

Podmayer loved skiing and jumped at the chance to work at the hospital in Leadville. He and Hill met in Vail at a locals' keg party - a slight embarrassment to Hill. Gibson, sitting next to her on the couch, reassured her. "Where does Bill meet everybody, Judy?"

The two began skiing together, became a couple, and moved together to Durango in 1984. They married 10 years later.

Podmayer and Gibson became good friends who thought of themselves as brothers. They created the "Bill and Wally" Christmas potluck parties, which grew legendary at Mercy. Musician Ralph Dinosaur provided entertainment, and when his band played "Buffalo Soldier," Podmayer jumped on stage. "No matter how bad he was, no matter how good, it always brought the house down," Gibson said.

"Pod" also created his own off-the-cuff songs, such as the "I'm a Nurse But I Want To Be a Paramedic Blues."

Ben and Michelle Stowers and family, of Durango , were scheduled to go on a river trip with 23-year-long friends Podmayer and Hill on Tuesday. "Bill had the biggest heart and cared about people to a fault," the Stowers said in a note. "Sometimes he cared so much he forgot to care about himself."

"I don't think I ever met anybody who was so people-oriented," Hill said. "He knew everybody in every office (at Mercy). He made it his business. That's why everyone's reeling so much."

And he loved his job, those who knew him said.

"Bill always made it fun," said co-worker Sharon Butler, an ICU nurse. But when it came time to work, Podmayer was right there, adeptly taking care of patients and family. He was confident, always up to any task, said Pat Wilson, Mercy's trauma coordinator.

As an adjunct to his job in the ICU, he began serving as a paid volunteer flight nurse in 1986. You could count on Podmayer to volunteer, Gibson said "unless it was a powder day." He would care for badly injured patients on flights to hospitals in larger cities. Podmayer was known to check in on patients the next time he was in that city.

When CareFlight formed a year ago, Podmayer was deeply disappointed when he wasn't one of the first round of hires, Gibson said.

Although he loved food, he managed to lose 30 pounds; that ultimately helped him get the position a few months later.

"He loved it. There was nobody anywhere in the world who's loved his job more than he loved that job," Gibson said. He joyfully wore the bright-red uniforms that many considered gaudy.

Everything one could do in Durango, Podmayer would do, Gibson said. That included hiking, rafting, horsing, "horsing around," hunting and fishing. And softball. His running style - on his toes - was the source of amusement in the stands.

"We laughed at him running the bases, but nobody laughed at his skiing," Hill said. She paused at the memory, and the realization of what's ahead. "Skiing's going to be hard this year."

The tears came again.

"He just took care of everybody."

- John Peel , Durango Herald, July 4, 2005