June 17, 2013

In Tribute: Dobbs lived life of service

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Own a full fledged farm, marry the girl next door, and become a flight paramedic.

Those were the dreams of 40-year-old Herman Lee Dobbs Jr., the paramedic who died in the Clay County crash of Air Evac 109 last week.

Hobbs, known to his friends as Lee, had just achieved two of his goals — spending the past 25 years with his wife, Emilee, and fathering three sons in their 22 years of marriage.

After years of working in various emergency settings — including Saint Joseph London's emergency room and as a member of Ambulance Inc. — Hobbs had just received his flight paramedic certification. He had his first flight with Air Evac on Tuesday, just two days before his tragic death along with Air Evac pilot Eddy Sizemore and flight nurse Jesse Jones. The Air Evac helicopter crashed in the parking lot of Paces Creek Elementary School on Thursday, June 6.

Dobbs was following in the footsteps of his uncle, who was a flight paramedic, and whom, according to wife Emilee, Dobbs used as a role model throughout his life.

"He thought the world of his uncle," she said. "He thought that being a flight paramedic meant you were the best of the best. He was thrilled with his new job."

Dobbs' adult life was one of service, beginning as a volunteer firefighter with the Mt. Carmel (Tenn.) fire department when he was only 19 years old and just after he and Emilee solidified their four years of dating in marriage.

"I met Lee when I was 15. I actually moved next door to him," Emilee said. "We got married when we were 19."

His widow describes Dobbs as a man who was always willing to help others, and as a hard worker.

"He would work 96 hours a week," she said. "Before he got the job as a flight paramedic, he worked at two ambulance services."

The Dobbs family, originally from Tennessee, moved to London just two years ago, buying some property and launching their dream of having a farm, complete with horses, as Dobbs was an avid horseback rider. They were also in process of building a house on that property.

"We were building the house together. He could do everything and anything," his wife said. "He built houses some in Tennessee and knew how to do it. He wanted to have a farm that he could work on full-time after he retired."

While he didn't see his dream realized, his family plans to stay here and continue the plan he started.

"We talked about if something happened, and he (Dobbs) said this is the happiest he'd ever seen Hayden, our 11 year old," Emilee said. "We're going to stay here."

She described Dobbs as a man who was "passionate about helping others" — a description that credits Dobbs' history of working with the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office and various emergency response organizations over his lifetime. He drove from his home in Tennessee to work in London for Air Methods, the Clay County EMS, Ambulance Inc., and various other agencies before taking the job with Air Evac.

Although Emilee admits "being nervous" about Dobbs' job as a flight paramedic, she said her last visit with them on the day of his death did not send any negative signals.

"He called me and said he was flying to Holston (Tenn.). I was visiting family in Tennessee and went to meet him. We (Emilee and sons, 11-year-old Hayden and 16-month-old Walker) watched him fly in, visited a while, and then he left," Emilee said. "We watched him fly off. He had a little window by the seat where he sat and he put his hand out the window and waved. I never dreamed that would be the last time we'd see him."

That final visit was one that Emilee will never forget.

"I had to pull Walker away from his daddy, because he didn't want to let go of his daddy," Emilee said. "We were used to him being gone all week because paramedics work 24 hours shifts. Sometimes, they would have two or three flights and sometimes they might not have any, it just depended on what the need was."

The support the family has received since the tragic accident has been overwhelming, she said.

Breaking into tears, she added, "Lee would have been so amazed at all this fuss being made over him," she sobbed.

The "fuss" includes an escort from the funeral at Hawk Creek Church in London along U.S. 25 through Middlesboro and into Tennessee.

"There are teams coming from different places in Tennessee to escort him there," Emilee said. "They are planning a fly over at some point but I'm not sure if it will be at the funeral or the burial site."

A scholarship fund has been established for Dobbs' three children — Jordan, a 22-year-old college student majoring in digital media, 11-year-old Hayden, and 16-month-old Walker. Persons wishing to donate can do so at First National Bank of London in the account of Walker Dobbs Scholarship fund.