By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Herman “Lee” Dobbs Jr. went home to his native northeast Tennessee Thursday afternoon. But before he did, the helicopter paramedic’s life was celebrated that morning during a funeral service west of London.
Friends and co-workers remembered the 40-year-old Laurel Countian as a spirited man who loved life, family and teaching others in his profession, during the service held at Hawk Creek Church on Hwy. 80.
His widow, Emilee, their three boys, his parents, his brother, and other family members were joined by scores of first responders who paid their respects and took their seats in honor of their friend and colleague.
House-Rawlings Funeral Home of London, who was in charge of arrangements, said more than 300 persons attended the funeral.
Dobbs was one of three Air Evac Lifeteam 109 crew members who perished last Thursday night, when their medical helicopter crashed on the parking lot of Paces Creek Elementary School in Clay County.
For many of those in the emergency services, Dobbs was their hero. He was the wind beneath their wings.
Mary Messer, with Knox County EMS, was one of those who spoke about her friend during the service.
“I remember when I first worked a shift with him. They called Lee a ‘spirited medic.’ When I asked him, ‘You’re the spirited medic?,’ he said, ‘Yep.’ He said he didn’t have a Facebook page, but showed me Emilee’s page, which showed pictures of his horses. Soon we got to know all about Lee’s horses and Hunting Creek. We had to go on a call from Baptist (hospital) in Corbin to Lexington to take an elderly patient. The patient’s husband said whenever she traveled, she would sing ‘On The Road Again.’ On the way, Lee was singing that to her, because that’s what the woman did when her and her husband traveled. That was Lee. He did love his job. He loved teaching. He’s got his wings now, and that’s what we’re gonna hold on to,” said Messer.
“This base (Air Evac 109, based in Manchester) was his second home. We’re kooky, but we’re family,” said Kristen Rush, a flight medic and a member of the crew that worked with Dobbs. She was joined by four other members of the crew at the podium, and recalled some of the crazier moments that first responders do when they have some downtime, such as playing practical jokes on each other.
One particular trick got scores of laughs from the audience. Then Rush changed gears as she finished speaking about her co-worker.
“We’ll continue to fly, because the three that we lost are a constant reminder of what we are doing,” noted Rush.
The service was scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
Inside the chapel, two large video screens on each side of his casket showed the moments Dobbs savored — his family, his friends, wearing his Stetson hat and riding a horse, camping in the woods and playing with his children at Christmas time. The American flag was draped over his closed casket, and was in the center of the stage area, behind the podium. Behind the podium was a large picture of Dobbs in his work uniform. Both sides of the coffin were lined with more pictures and several floral displays — many sent in from numerous medical service and law enforcement personnel.
Just after 10 a.m. a stream of family members sat down. Then came the first responders.
The Air Evac crews and co-workers. Police, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies. And the EMTs — several of them taught by Dobbs in their paramedic classes.
All of them had heavy hearts that morning.
A recording of Vince Gill singing, “Go Rest High Beyond That Mountain” began to play softly over the speakers. Some of the responders passed by the coffin and began to weep.
A few others that were already seated did too.
A young woman came to the stage, sat at the piano, and began to sing “That’s When Faith Steps In.” The audience listened intently as the lyrics sank in.
“When you say goodbye to your dearest friends, And through tear-filled eyes you say, ‘I’ll see them again,’ That’s when mmm faith steps in,” she sang.
“Lee was always thankful for things,” said Pastor Ronnie Trent, who talked about Dobbs’ childhood years and called Emilee “the love of Lee’s life.” Trent then told those at the service, “I thank you for all that you’ve done for Emilee. I ask you to continue to pray for her and the boys. You can’t guess what tomorrow holds.”
There was more music, including acoustic guitar versions of “I Will Rise” and “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” from a man and woman doing a duet.
Everything got quiet when Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services (KBEMS) Regional Administrator Letch Day got up and read “An EMS Prayer,” dedicated to those in the Emergency Medical Services field.
And on this day, especially to Dobbs.
“This describes Lee’s love of his job as a paramedic,” Day said.
“Lee is in a better place today,” said Matt Patterson, a friend of Dobbs and his family who spoke at the funeral.
After the service, a piper playing the bagpipes led the pallbearers carrying Dobbs’ casket outside the church and into a waiting ambulance. The first responders saluted, and the ambulance was joined by a caravan of other emergency vehicles as they turned right on Route 80, headed for London.
In London, the procession turned south on I-75 and traveled towards Corbin. They turned left at Exit 29 as it entered U.S. 25E. From there, other first-responders and everyday people showed their respect to Dobbs, by lining up along the route in Knox County, where he previously worked as a paramedic with Knox County EMS.
Many waved American flags. Several held up signs, honoring his memory.
The procession continued on the Cumberland Gap Parkway, past Gray, Barbourville and Flat Lick, before it left Knox County and headed towards Pineville and Middlesboro. It went across the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, into Dobbs’ native state of Tennessee. They were met by other first responders in the Volunteer State, before it came to Rogersville, where an additional visitation was held Thursday evening.
Another funeral service will be held today (Friday), also in Rogersville at Christian-Sells Funeral Home. After that funeral, Lee Dobbs will come home — to be laid to rest near Kingsport, in Church Hill, Tennessee.