Gary BeachGary and Jamie Beach sat next to each other on a gray couch at their home in Southeast Louisville. As they were being photographed, they were prompted to lean into each other. With a glance and a chuckle, they smiled, melted into one other, and gently placed their hands together. One couldn’t help but smile watching the two of them - seeing a love decades in the making is a rare and beautiful thing, and the affection Gary and Jamie displayed for each other was reminiscent of a much younger couple in the early stages of courtship. A lone beam of sunlight crept through an open window, illuminating the couple in the bright warmth of a springtime sunset.

Gary is a man of the world with a heart of gold. Among other jobs he, “...spent most of the 70s in the military, I was in the nuclear war business actually - Strategic Air Command in the Air Force.” After his time in the service, he went to Spalding College in Downtown Louisville (where he met his wife), and completed a double major in psychology and religious studies with a minor in philosophy. From here, Gary worked a number of jobs including: social work, parole officer, surveillance at the Ceasar’s gambling boat, a teaching assistant with JCPS, and other professions. In his different roles, Gary learned a number of skills over the years (such as how to count cards to make sure that cheaters wouldn’t get away with beating the house unfairly), and eventually completed his Master’s degree. But more importantly, he learned much about caring for those without a voice or an advocate. For example, when asked about his work experience with JCPS, Gary noted, “That was the roughest job I’ve ever had. Did that for 10 years, got beat up a lot…but it was really rewarding working with young people. My son is a teacher at Churchill Park where they have a lot of students with Cerebral Palsy, so I’ve been working there when I can. Very, very rewarding thing to do.”Gary Beach

Reflecting on his long career, Gary notes that a confidant once said, “You’ve always been in a pretty bad slice of life…they’re right. I don’t know why I always gravitated to being in protective services, or in corrections, or in special education. But it’s true, I have.” One bright spot in Gary’s life was meeting Jamie. Gary notes that at the time he was, “...on track to join the priesthood.” After meeting Jamie however, “That crazy idea went out the window.” They have two children and two grandchildren.

A beautiful marriage, a loving family, and a lifetime’s worth of good works and caring for others were all jepordized due to a freak accident around 4 p.m. on December 2nd, 2019.

“It was a very warm December day…I’d been up on the roof and worked 3 or 4 hours trying to fix a leak. When I was finished, I thought I’d clean up the yard.” Gary cleaned up all the leaves, sticks, and other brush in his yard and added it to his burn pit, which he ignited. “Last I remember I was just sitting there. They say that I must have gotten really dehydrated. I remember standing up and my head spinning…and I just went right down into it. Nobody was around, nobody saw what happened. From what I can pull together, I pushed myself out. My whole arm was burned up, my hand is pretty messed up.”Gary Beach

“People always say, ‘Oh, boy that must hurt.’ Well, no, because once burns are so severe, once tissue damage is so severe, you don’t feel it, because the nerves are all burned. What hurt, was where they took the skin to replace it all. They took the skin from my thighs, and that hurt like a son of a gun.”

Gary steadfastly notes however that UofL Health was pivotal in his recovery. “EMS was a dream. I was in such shock. They hauled me into UofL Health, 6th floor Burn Unit. I don’t know where I’d have been if it hadn’t been for them. What a benefit to this town this place is. I’ve met so many fantastic, healing professionals. Not just doctors. A lot of nurses, Jenny [a traumasocial worker] came along and uh…my son and his wife were pregnant with the first grandchild at the time, and she made me ‘It’s a boy!’ balloons in my room. So I’d do anything for Jenny. Anything.”

Gary was at UofL Health for 2 months, and got out in Febrary of 2020, one month before COVID-19 rocked the world. “Wham, another 6 months in isolation.” In spite of that, the team at UofL Health never faltered. “They’re a group of healing angels. Up on the 6th floor. The work those people did…Do…is just phenomenal. Phenomenal.”

“I just remember being taken care of. Not only physically, but mentally. I wasn’t just a person that they had to work with, I was a mission."

In particular, Gary notes that Michelle Broers, PT, DPT, CWS. FACCWS and Burn Program Manager was absolutely critical in his recovery and acceptance of all that had happened. Gary had wandered down to the hospital basement when a voice from behind him said, “Well Mr. Beach, I guess we’re going to be working together a lot.” It was Michelle, who knew Gary and his story in its entirety. “And I thought…well what kind of serendipity is this. And right then, I’ve always told her that, was like the hand of God touching me, letting me know that I was going to be okay.”Gary Beach

Though his injuries have altered Gary’s life, they don’t prevent him entirely from enjoying his life. “I still do a lot of the things I enjoy, I wish I could go out and throw a football with my son again. But, as you get older, you have to leave some things behind. I think it’s made me a stronger person, a stronger man, as a result of it. I get knocked down, but I’m getting back up.”

Gary’s message to others is, “Things can change in an instant. It’s a crazy world out there, and things can happen quick. But you can’t give up. You’ve got to keep a young at heart attitude and just look at the alternative. At my age, a lot of friends of mine are already deceased, passed on. I’m thankful for every day that I have with my lovely wife, my grandkids, my sons of course…but I would encourage others to look how I behave or how I act. I don’t sit around all morose. I’m going to live my life until I ever get to that great self-actualizaiton.”

Gary and Jamie continue to live in their home in Southeast Louisville. “Like Forest Gump said, ‘That’s about all I got to say about that.’”