Waterford’s Gary Batch never smoked, was never sick and was just two years past a retirement he never wanted to take. But one day in September of 2009, he became exhausted just walking to the bathroom at his children’s home.
He went to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Sixteen months later, at the age of 68, he was dead.
“It is the ultimate death sentence,” son Jason Batch said. “And I think that’s the toughest thing. Once we all found out, we all knew that our lives had been flipped.”
After serving in the Navy and then working as a pipe fitter for Electric Boat, Batch worked as a New London firefighter for forty years. He only retired at age 65 because he had to, per rule, and after remained close with his firefighting brethren.
“It is a brotherhood,” wife Carol Batch said. “He really loved (being a firefighter).”
The family is refusing to let his memory die, or allow the disease that killed him to continue to go under-researched. So this Saturday, on September 22, they are holding the first Gary Batch 5k Walk/Run for Mesothelioma, with all the proceeds going to benefit Mesothelioma research.
How would the quiet Gary Batch feel about it?
“He’d be mad,” Jason Batch said, laughing. “He never wanted to be the center of attention. But at the same time I think, deep down, he would also be proud of us for carrying on the tradition he started of helping people.”
Gary Batch enlisted in the Navy right after he graduated high school, where he served for three years. After, he would work for three years at Electric Boat before finally getting a job he loved in the New London Fire Department.
He settled down in Waterford, married his eventual wife of 40 years, Carol, and had three children; Karen, Jason and Kevin; who went on to have four grandchildren. He served as the president of the New London firefighter union for 16 years, was a member of the Executive Board of the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut, was active in Waterford preteen basketball even after his children grew out of it and served on the committee of the Neil Holeck Basketball tournament.
His family remembers him as a quiet man, who gave his own verbal “jab” just when somebody needed it. His whole life was about others, and what made him happiest was giving, Jason Batch said.
“Everything he did, it was never about him, it was always about everybody else,” he said. “I think his joy in life came in helping.”
In the summer of 2009, Gary Batch began to show “bronchitis-like” symptoms, according to daughter Kathleen Wettemann. He was coughing and would become tired quickly from even the smallest task, Carol Batch said.
“He was never sick,” she said. “When’s complaining of all this, I was like ‘your fine.’ I thought he was alright.”
On Labor Day weekend in 2009, Gary Batch was over his children’s house celebrating, when he just went to the bathroom and came back exhausted. Realizing it was an issue, his family brought him to the Yale clinic in Guilford, where he was later brought to Yale's main hospital and diagnosed with Mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, although it takes 30 to 40 years to show up, and when it does there is no cure. There is also no test until it is too late, and when people are first diagnosed, they usually live for about another 16 months, Jason Batch said.
That held true for Gary Batch. The first year, he was okay, but then doctor’s wanted to do chemotherapy. The treatments were intense and still ineffective, and on December 30, 2010, the doctors told him there was nothing more they could do.
After that, he had three weeks before the disease eventually overtook him. The Batch’s Waterford home was a “revolving door,” with firefighter after firefighter coming in, Jason Batch said.
One day, about a week before he died, he had his daughter Kathleen and his son Jason come into his room for about three hours. He showed them all these awards he won and all these articles written about him – none of which he showed his children before – and basically wished him farewell.
“I think that was his way of saying goodbye,” daughter Kathleen Wettemann said.
He died in January of 2011, with his funeral attended by firefighters from around the area. By the time he died, he accepted his fate, son Kevin Batch said.
“He was ready at the end,” Kevin Batch said. “I think he told us all at the end, he was ready.”
Gary Batch 5k
The 5k race is at Waterford Beach Park, and people can register that morning at 9. At 10 a.m., the race begins. All the proceeds go to research Mesothelioma, which is an under-researched disease because it is relatively rare, Jason Batch said.
So far, the family has already raised $11,000 from donations, registrations and sponsors, Kathleen Wettemann said. The event is being catered by Filomena’s restaurant, she said.
For more information about the race, and to register or donate, click here.