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.”
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 great-grandchildren. 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.”
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.