Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
Fred Garrow feels connected to this area. To the state, the town, the people, his job, his patients.
“Although I could live without the winters,” he jokes.
Living in Vermont his whole life, if not enamored, Fred is certainly used to its not-so-friendly winters. But having traveled both in the States and overseas since he first went to England in high school, including to France, Germany, Belgium and China as an adult, he has experienced different climates, seen different ways of life, and met many different people. Residing in this largely homogeneous state, this is something that interests him greatly.
“You were always interested in people that were different,” Fred recalls his father once saying to him. Indeed, Fred remembers as a child being fascinated by the people he saw on 1970s TV shows. He tells a story about the time he ran out of the house to talk to and give some water to a group of hippies hiking up his road. Of his parents’ fear of outsiders, he says, “I just didn’t get it. To me as a five-year-old, it didn’t seem fair.”
And now, 50 years later, after working at Rutland Regional Medical Center for 23 years and having volunteered as a mentor to a local child through the Mentor Connector for the past three years, Fred feels the same: “Good people are everywhere.”
When Fred began working at RRMC in 1994, it was, in a way, a return to his roots. He had been born there 30 years earlier. His parents, whose family on both sides had immigrated from Canada — “Kanucks,” Fred calls them — had been farmers in Mount Holly. In the 1960s, Fred’s father left farming and began working at G.E. in Rutland.
At first, fresh out of Black River High School, thinking he’d also go into factory work, Fred pursued a business degree at Castleton State College (University). Graduating in 1987, he too started working at G.E.
But something else happened that year. While working a summer job at the Burlington Square Mall, Fred met Gene. A New York city transplant, Gene was living in Burlington, where he would later become a co-owner of the salon Indigo. After Fred returned to Rutland to work at G.E., the couple maintained a long-distance — and secret, at first — relationship.
In 1992, Fred was laid off from G.E. After having volunteered at Vermont Cares and hearing stories from his nurse friend, he decided he wanted to go into health care. In 1994, with a brand-new nursing degree from Castleton in hand, he was hired at RRMC as a night nurse in the psych department. In 1998, he moved to Medical Oncology, where he still is today.
“It was the best choice I ever made,” Fred says. “I hadn’t known what I wanted to do, but I found a purpose [in nursing]. I feel empowered helping people — that connection with folk.”
Unfortunately, however, on the home front, there was a disconnection. Although he says he’s never experienced any overt prejudice in Vermont, after Fred’s coming out to his family in 1993, around the time the issue of gays in the military was in the news, he had very little contact with his parents.
But Fred and Gene continued to make their long-distance relationship work. At first honoring their love in a commitment ceremony in 1998 surrounded by 100 friends, in 2000, they held a small ceremony on the Burlington Waterfront to celebrate their civil union. Gene moved to Mount Holly with Fred in 2003, and they were officially married in 2010.
This year will mark the 30th anniversary of their first date at Carbur’s in Burlington.
While the past 30 years have seen many positive changes for the LGBT community, Fred says over his 23 years at the hospital, it has also seen many changes. “Some good, some challenging,” he admits. “People are living longer, getting sicker, and in some cases not getting as much family support.”
And he has nothing but praise for his fellow nurses. “They have so much dedication. They work so hard in a confounded system.
“It boils down to connection with the patient. That’s what matters,” Fred explains. “Being in the hospital is stressful. We [nurses] connect to them on a human level to let them know it’s going to be okay. In this moment, it’s going to be okay.”
Over his tenure at RRMC, Fred has risen in rank to his current position as director of nurses of his department. Finishing his MSN degree this week, with a final project focusing on improving communication between doctors and nurses, it is his natural need to communicate, assure and care for people that drew Fred to Rutland Welcomes as soon as he heard of the possible resettlement of Syrian refugees. Wanting to be a little more prepared if a refugee was admitted to his department at the hospital, he took a couple of Arabic language lessons.
“I was excited to prepare my staff and to be culturally mindful. The refugees are so afraid and I knew they were going to have a really hard time [once here]. I wanted to make them safe.”
It was also a concern for safety that saw Fred finally reunited with his parents. When the road in Mount Holly on which both senior and junior Garrow couples reside washed out in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene, Fred’s father contacted his son to offer any assistance he might need.
“Now Gene cuts my mom’s hair and sometimes cooks for them,” Fred says.
“This town has good people. Home is special because of those people. It’s the connections of a community.”