On to greener pastures

By John Ford Sr. | Jan 28, 2011

Sadly, during the final days of 2010, the Maine Warden Service bid farewell to one of its most dedicated wildlife officers.

Retired Game Warden Larry Grant of Warren lost the fight for his life Dec. 30, after months of waging the most courageous battle of all. That battle was against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Surrounded by his loving family members at Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Larry succumbed to the disease that many of us know very little about.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a serious neurological disease that causes muscle weakness, disability and eventually death. ALS is also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, named after the famous baseball player who was diagnosed with it in 1939.

Larry was a real fighter. He always managed to maintain a huge smile and jovial attitude for which he was so famous, even through the most difficult of times.

In 1972, Larry joined the fish and wildlife agency. I personally got to know him as we had bordering districts. He was a congenial giant, towering well over 6 feet tall and possessing a personality that was second to none.

Like the rest of us, Larry spent countless hours protecting the state's natural resources and providing a great service to sportsmen of Maine. His jovial laugh and keen sense of humor were his trademarks. They made working those long fall nights out in the field all the more enjoyable.

My favorite memory occurred late one fall evening when I took it upon myself to work night hunters a short distance across my district line, in Warden Lowell Thomas' patrol area. In essence, I was doing a little poaching of my own by invading a fellow warden's territory and hoping to snag a night hunter in the process. It was a real hot area for activity as the surrounding fields were often full of whitetails.

I'd worked with Wardens Thomas and Grant before, so I was quite familiar with a place to hide close by in a small patch of woods. It was the perfect place to conceal the vehicle and monitor for illegal activity.

I honestly never expected Larry and Lowell to be out and about on that particular night, so I didn't bother contacting them to let them know I'd be in the area.

Shortly after my arrival, I observed vehicle headlights coming my way. Suddenly the lights went out and the vehicle slowly backed into the narrow field road, parking directly in front of me. If they'd been night hunters, the lights would have been flashing over the entire area ... but they were not.

Ever so slowly, the car inched its way toward my location. Once it was out of sight from any possible traffic, the engine shut off. Immediately, I heard the familiar chatter of the Maine State Police radio coming from inside the parked vehicle. Only then did I realize it was Wardens Thomas and Grant.

I was in trouble and I knew it. At the very least, Lowell would loudly voice his total disgust for my sneaking into his sacred patrol area. I could hear it all, “Somewhere around here I've got a #*! - damned district! You don't happen to know where to hell it is, do you?!”

It wasn't the first time I'd poached across Lowell's district lines to try to bag a violator. But by the same token, I wasn't the only warden in the state to ever have gone astray. Invading a bordering warden's sacred domain was a more common occurrence than not.

As the saying goes, "The pasture always did look greener on the other side.”

I was in a real dilemma. I couldn't very well sneak out of the area unnoticed, seeing that Wardens Thomas and Grant had me blocked in. I might just as well face the agony. I'd go get my tongue-lashing from Lowell, and perhaps join them in their cruiser for the duration of the night. That is, if they'd allow me to join them!

I quietly hiked up alongside of their cruiser. I could hear them joking and laughing, completely unaware I was less than a yardstick away.

I don't know why I do some of the things I do, but the little devil inside of me decided to play a prank. I'd reverse the role a bit, and abruptly accuse them of cutting in on my activities and advise Lowell that I'd finally found his district.

I patiently waited until they were settled in and I crept up to the driver's side of the vehicle. They were hysterically laughing at some antic they'd pulled on someone else, when I quickly yanked the door open and yelled, “What the hell are you fellows doing here?!”

Lowell was pouring a cup of coffee from his thermos, most of which then proceeded to spray all over the dash and onto the floor of his cruiser.

Larry's feet ran in place; his long, lanky legs pumped up and down like Lance Armstrong on the final leg of his bike tour. Even though he wasn't going anywhere, Larry's legs were desperately searching for a place to land.

He was babbling, “What the hell ... what the ...,” as if he couldn't get anything else to come out of his mouth. In other words, I'd scared the ever loving bejesus out of my two compadres.

Once the dust had settled and they realized who I was, just as I had expected, Lowell launched into a tirade. “Somewhere around here I've got a *#*-damned district!"

We finished the night, just the three of us, telling stories, laughing at each other, and enjoying great comradeship while patiently waiting for a poacher to come along – one that never did.

Larry had skirted death in the line of duty. Once he was dynamiting a beaver dam far out on a back road in a remote section of his district. The minute he detonated the explosive charge, the end of the electrical wires he was holding landed on nearby high-tension lines. Larry was the recipient of a full charge of electricity. It knocked him down to the ground and blew holes out through his feet and hands.

By all standards, it was a freakish accident that taught us all a good lesson. Fortunately, within seconds, a motorist happened upon Larry lying face down in the roadway. He was unconscious and was experiencing a great deal of difficulty breathing.

It was only by the grace of God that someone was traveling in the remote area. The good Samaritan used Larry's police radio to summon medical help for the injured warden. Had the traveler not arrived when he had, chances are, Larry may not have survived the ordeal.

Hearing that plea for help from an unfamiliar voice over the police radio describing the injured warden in the roadway sent a cold chill up and down my spine, as it did many other police officers who heard the urgent request.

Being the fighter that he was, Larry survived the ordeal, none the worse for the event. After a brief stay at the hospital, and a little physical therapy, he was back on patrol, very fortunate to have been a survivor.

Larry beat the odds that time. But sadly, a few years after his official retirement from warden service, he faced the biggest battle of all.

Larry's career began as a cook in the Air Force, serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. He went on to work as a guard at the Maine State Prison before finally reaching his goal of becoming a state of Maine Game Warden. He was a damn good one at that.

He unselfishly served the sportsmen of our state for 23 dedicated years, working days and nights.

Upon his retirement, Larry continued working for the state, as deputy marshal for the Knox County court system. In 2006, he was awarded the Judicial Branch Roy Rice Award, which is presented to someone who "has made an outstanding contribution to the safety and well being of the employees of the Judicial Branch and those persons who participate in court activities."

Such an honor was hard to achieve, but once again Larry's professionalism was duly recognized by his peers, and by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley. It was one of many of his accolades.

In March 2010, during the major celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Maine Warden Service, in front of a packed house, Larry was awarded a Lifetime Distinguished Service Award on behalf of the entire Maine Warden Service. It was a great tribute to a man who gave his all in a career he thoroughly loved.

ALS was taking its toll. Larry was wheeled to the front of the room for the presentation in his mobile chair. And there was that same big grin that I'd seen so many times in the past. ALS be damned, the recognition by his peers, along with a standing ovation from everyone in the crowded room, brought a huge smile to his face.

The honor was well deserved for many years of exemplary service from one of Maine's finest.

Here it is, a couple months later, and Larry hopefully has ventured to those greener pastures in the "happy hunting ground above,” a secure place where we can only hope he has obtained the eternal peace he deserves. His long struggle against a relentless and brutal disease is over.

I, along with the rest of my comrades, will surely miss the tall giant with the big, burly laugh and never-ending smile.

May you rest in peace, my friend. You may be gone, but you'll never be forgotten.

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