In 1955, a young Japanese student from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut found himself swept out into the Long Island Sound – an estuary located between New York and Connecticut. In a nearby car, another man was eating his brown bag lunch and heard the man’s frantic plea for help. Without hesitation, he raced from his car and jumped into the harbor fully clothed –only to find the current was hindering his swimming ability.
Undeterred, the man ripped off his trousers and dove for the drowning student, pulling him to safety. Later someone asked George Hale why he would risk his life to save someone from a country that America had been at war with just a few years before. Hale answered that he didn’t see race or color – just a human being in danger of drowning – and his instinct was to use the skills he had learned to save that life.
Hale learned those lifesaving skills through the American Red Cross, an organization that later recognized this selfless man with a Certificate of Merit. He received another reward a week later when his pants washed up ashore and were returned to him with the wallet still inside the pocket.
Health and Safety instructor George Hale works with employees of Buckle My Shoe Daycare in North Myrtle Beach during Infant/Child CPR, First Aid and Bloodborne Pathogens training.
(Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
Newport, R.I., native George Hale began his association with the Red Cross at age 12 when he took first aid training from a fire department Red Cross instructor. He continued gaining skills with junior lifesaving training. In 1943, the 16-year-old was able to get a job as a lifeguard even though he was still considered a little young for the responsibility.
In 1947 in Massachusetts, he took a 10-day course to become a qualified water safety instructor. This landed him the volunteer position of Safety Program Director at the local Red Cross chapter. His favorite job was teaching swim lessons to young kids.
“I loved it. I had a choice of what to do so I chose to teach the beginners,” he said. “There used to be a saying in Red Cross that if you teach someone to swim, you’ve saved a life. It gave me a lot of self-satisfaction.”
Over the years, Hale has given 35 years of voluntary service to the Red Cross and along the way met a woman named Lillian, who became his wife in 1952. The couple had three children together, and Hale’s lifesaving skills proved just as important inside his own home as they did outside. Once, he performed rescue breathing after his infant son had vomited in his sleep and choked, turning blue. He recalls another occasion when back blows dislodged popcorn from his toddler’s throat. And, on another occasion, his son ate a bottle of baby aspirin during a snowstorm.
“Like I say, ‘its lifesaving training’,” Hale said about his first aid and CPR skills. “When someone is choking or not breathing, the clock is ticking. I have a lot to be thankful for with the Red Cross.”
In 1983, he served as a trainer for six Red Cross chapters in Connecticut training more than 1,000 people a year.
“They say I taught more people in Connecticut than anybody,” he said, crediting his success to being dependable and skilled.
Hale has enjoyed a varied and busy career that ranged from teaching first aid to supervisors and lifeguarding on a beach where Jacqueline Bouvier sunned herself to serving as a problem solving sales engineer for Mine Safety Appliances for 17 years. Through AmeriCorps, the domestic Peace Corps, he taught at a technical college in the ghetto and later spent more than three years in Saudi Arabia as a loss prevention coordinator for a $40 billion industrial city project.
When Hale and his wife moved to Murrells Inlet in 2002, he wanted to remain active. Throughout the years, he continued taking Red Cross training and providing skills training to scout troops, including Sea Scouts, and in Saudi Arabia where he worked through the Red Crescent Society. In all that he has done, he had the goal of making a difference.
“I hope I’ve changed some people’s lives,” Hale said.
At age 76, he joined the Red Cross chapter in Horry County, S.C., and began working as a per diem health and safety instructor. He celebrated his 80th birthday on Jan. 15, 2007 with his supervisor Rocco Salinari and other Coastal South Carolina Chapter colleagues. Teaching lifesaving skills keeps George active and brings him a lot of satisfaction in life.
“The Red Cross has been a part of my life for a long time,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. Where else can you get the nice feelings you get when you help someone?”
To learn more about gaining lifesaving skills through Red Cross health and safety courses or for more information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit RedCross.org or contact your local American Red Cross chapter.
Angela Nicholas is the executive director for the Coastal South Carolina Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.