Skip to main content

Connecticut EMS Legends Remembered


Two sisters, beloved and historic figures in Connecticut EMS, passed away this October within days of one another.

Jean and Ethel Grady were not only sisters and business partners in EMS, but best friends, and they were married to a pair of brothers, Herman and Howard Grady.

In 1945 the four founded Aetna Ambulance Service, Inc. of Hartford, creating one of the first minority-owned ambulance services in the country, said David Skoczulek, Aetna Business Development Manager.

The Gradys founded their ambulance service following the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire, a major disaster that killed 167 people and injured hundreds. To get started they combined the service with their other business. "They had a flower shop, and they used their vehicle as a combination delivery truck and ambulance," Skoczulek said.

When the brothers eventually passed away in the 1980s and the sisters took control of Aetna Ambulance Service, the company became historic as a female/minority-owned ambulance service. Aetna doesn't have official data on whether they were first to accomplish this, Skoczulek said, but it is certainly a unique and special history that continues to make employees proud today.

The story is also special to the entire city of Hartford, where African-American history is well celebrated, Skoczulek said.

At Aetna's office, "We have almost a shrine to the ladies," Skoczulek said. "They were always referred to as ladies because they were the classiest people you would ever meet."

Jean and Ethel remained involved in the ambulance service until the mid 1990s. They are fondly remembered for calling the employees their kids, and determinedly planning a future for the company in order to secure a future for their employees, Skoczulek said.

Jean Grady, 77, passed away Monday, October 27, 2008. Her sister Ethel, 85, then passed away Friday, October 31, 2008. A joint funeral service was held in their honor.

Jean (Smith) Grady
According to the Hartford Courant, Jean was the beloved wife of the late Herman W. Grady. She was born in East Milton, MA and moved to Roxbury, MA with her family at the age of 7. She was a graduate of Roxbury Memorial High School and was President of her junior and senior classes. She attended Suffolk University in 1952 and graduated from the School of Social Work at the University of Connecticut, Class of 1954. She had resided in Hartford since 1954 and is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.

Ethel (Smith) Grady
The Hartford Courant reports that Ethel, beloved wife of the late Howard F. Grady, Sr., was born in Cambridge, MA, and moved to Roxbury, MA at the age of 14. She was a graduate of Roxbury Memorial High School and the Boston Clerical School, and had lived in Hartford for the past 53 years. In addition to her work with the florist and ambulance companies, she was employed by the State of Connecticut Highway Department and retired from the Division of Special Revenue of the State of Connecticut. Ethel is survived by a daughter, two sons and their families.

Back to Top