Would a garbage pickup ever help save a life? If you ask the town officials in Stuart, the answer likely is a resounding, “Yes.”
That likely is because the town manager and his assistant take their jobs seriously, but not so much their titles. They both roll up their sleeves to help with the more mundane duties – including garbage pickup.
Assistant Town Manager Billy Gammons recently donned a jacket before heading out to help on the garbage route. While going about his work, Gammons noticed that one resident, Ruth Harnsburger, hadn’t set her bag of garbage out for pickup, which, he said, was unusual.
“Ruthie always has a little small bag of trash every Tuesday when we do her run,” Gammons said. “I’ve been picking it up for years and years. It’s always the same scenario every single Tuesday. I noticed her car was there, so I knew she was there.”
Gammons decided to check on her, went to the house, and knocked on the door.
“I heard a voice from her back porch, and I walked around and asked about her trash,” Gammons said, adding that Harnsburger said, ‘hold on.’
She then brought the single bag of garbage out, and when Gammons saw her, he asked if she felt okay. He said he was told, “no, I don’t feel good. I don’t feel right.”
Harnsburger was on the phone with a family member, he recalled. Even after leaving the home, Gammons said he felt someone needed to check on ‘Ruthie.’
“I left there, and it bothered me, so I went to her neighbor next door and told her about Ruthie,” Gammons said. “I told her ‘you really need to go down and check on her. Something’s not right. She doesn’t look well, and she said her voice was really weak and shallow.’
When the neighbor later went to check on Harnsburger, she took her to the emergency room where it was determined that Harnsburger had COVID-19 and pneumonia.
Harnsburger said she stayed in the hospital for 10 days after her neighbor took her to the emergency room. She has since recovered.
But “if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know what would have happened,” she said, adding it’s possible that Gammons’ actions saved her life.
“I didn’t know I was as sick as I was, and I had been dragging on for a while,” she said.
“I’m just tickled that I was there and noticed that she was” not feeling well, Gammons said.
Since then, “I’ve had a couple of other ladies that after that told me” they wanted me to check on them too, he said, adding that he replied. “ma’am if you don’t have your trash, I’ll come and knock.’”
Gammons said this is the first time a situation like this has happened in the 20 years he’s helped with trash pick-up, and during his 23-year tenure with the town.
But “sometimes if they (residents) didn’t have their bags out for a while, I’ll go check on them,” he said.
Town Manager Bryce Simmons said Gammons continues to be a dedicated employee to the town, but more importantly to its residents.
“It’s rare to find someone that cares enough about the community to notice when something is out of place, act on it, and want nothing in return for doing so,” Simmons said. “I know that Billy doesn’t see it this way, but he deserves to be treated like a hero.”