Our Uncle Lou: A Tribute to Lou Jordan
In August 2005 I found myself standing in a hotel bar in New Orleans with two EMS legends: Lou Jordan and Rocco Morando. Surrounded by a small, awed audience, Lou and Rocco were telling stories of the early years when a formal emergency medical system was being created.
I listened intently as they reminisced about the beginnings of EMS. “Hey, Rocco, remember when we got off that plane in the Virgin Islands in 1974 and…?”
As he sheepishly glanced over at their indulgently smiling wives, I had no way of knowing how that first moment with “Uncle” Lou would change the direction of my career and influence my life for years to come.
Lou Jordan, who had worked shoulder to shoulder with Dr. R Adams Cowley (“No period after the R!” Lou would emphasize) as part of Maryland’s original shock trauma unit, was as much a titan of early EMS as others whose names we know from our textbooks. However, in that moment, at that time, they were just two old friends sharing stories with a new generation of EMS providers who could not truly know the struggles of founding a modern EMS profession.
Later that same year I asked an Internet group why old equipment—artifacts of a bygone era—was being thrown away when a service moved to a new building. Couldn’t it be displayed somewhere, I asked, to show how far EMS has evolved? Lou e-mailed me directly: “Hey, kid, let’s talk,” and development of the National EMS Museum Foundation began.
There are countless stories I could tell involving Lou, but time and space do not allow. He knew everyone, everywhere and found value in both friends and acquaintances. He was “Uncle Lou” by his own declaration to all he met and mentored. I will be forever grateful to have been one of those fortunate individuals.
My journey with Lou began with a drive to Richmond, Va., to pick up museum pieces from the Julian Stanley Wise Foundation/EMS Museum, which had closed in Roanoke. The trip was full of stories I wish I’d recorded on the development of EMS, including the early leaders Lou knew and worked with in the 1960s and 1970s who put their own careers on the line to build a system that would save countless lives. Lou never took much credit for his contributions to that time; he saw himself as a worker, provider, and instructor on behalf of those leaders.
Lou would call me up, and I knew there was a project he believed in and wanted me to be a part of. He had an amazing talent for mentoring new generations and matching people to opportunities. He would find an individual he believed could be successful if given the opportunity, and he’d open the door and escort them in. He often seemed to know I could be helpful to a project before I did. He would clear the path, sometimes shoving me along when I hesitated and always standing behind me until I realized I could add value to the project.
He was always there in the background offering advice and support. When the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride needed assistance coming through the state of Maryland, Lou made a call, and an escort met us at the border. He loved being part of events linked to causes he championed: police week, fire-service events, the National EMS Memorial Service, EMS conferences. Walking through exhibit halls, Lou shared ideas or offered deals on shirts and products to people and organizations. His generosity often left little or no profit for his own business, but he believed in promoting people and worthwhile causes. Walking beside Lou anywhere was a whirlwind of introductions, storytelling, and simply love of where he was at that moment.
Lou was a remarkably humorous man who could make you laugh hysterically even when you didn’t agree with his opinions. Lou became not only my mentor and friend, but like a father to me after mine passed away. He embraced my grandchild as his own. My heart breaks at his loss and rejoices that he has found peace.
Lou Jordan’s contribution to EMS can only be measured beside those of those other founders: Cowley, Morando, Deke Farrington, Nancy Caroline, David Boyd. His legacy lies in the generations of EMS providers and leaders he mentored and his advocacy for EMS to always move toward excellence. I know he will be watching over the industry he loved and those he guided. We will honor him by carrying on his legacy of mentoring future generations of EMS.
Godspeed, Uncle Lou!
Jules K. Scadden, PM, is director of Iowa’s Lisbon-Mt. Vernon Ambulance Service. She is a founder and past secretary of the National EMS Museum Foundation; founder and past president of the Iowa CPR Education Foundation; and a past NAEMT director at large, chair of the NAEMT Health and Safety Committee and past secretary and route coordinator for the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride.