Headmaster Injured in Fall While Deer Hunting in Pomfret 

  • Bob Bracy

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2017

Quechee — Members of the Mid Vermont Christian School community are sharing tears, prayers and support for their headmaster, Bob Bracy, who was in intensive care on Monday after falling and suffering serious injuries while deer hunting over the weekend according to school officials.

“He is hanging on. He made it through the first 48 hours which is nothing short of amazing,” Mid Vermont Board Chairman Perry Seale said. “Tough guy.”

Seale said he and others at the Quechee-based school were marveling at how Bracy, 58, who has been headmaster at the school for 18 years, survived a 100-foot drop off a cliff and remained conscious for long enough to get help.

“We just can’t quite piece it together,” said Seale, who is also a close friend of Bracy’s.

While hunting alone on Saturday, Bracy killed a deer and was dragging it through the woods on a ledge that runs near the White River in northeast Pomfret when he seems to have slipped. Though badly injured, he somehow had the presence of mind to get his cellphone.

“He was unable to see, but he was somehow able to call his wife,” Seale said.

Bracy’s wife, Lori Bracy, didn’t know where her husband had gone hunting, and he was unable to tell her where he was, according to Seale. She called 911 and also called his friend, Ralph Richards, who had exchanged texts with Bracy earlier in the morning and had some idea of his general location.

Without any real idea of what had happened or the extent of Bracy’s injuries, Richards and his son, Jake Richards, searched the area near the top of the cliff, calling for Bracy.

Temperatures were below freezing for much of the day.

Jake Richards, said Seale, “heard Bob call to him. He never would have looked at the base of the cliff. Why would you look at the base of a cliff?”

The Richardses were then able to direct emergency responders from Woodstock, Pomfret and Hartford, who accessed the scene by cutting through a farm located on White River Lane, off Pomfret Road.

“It’s incredibly fortunate he was found,” Seale said. “We could have easily had a recovery rather than a search and rescue.”

Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney said his department responded to a mutual aid request from Pomfret and Woodstock at about 12:10 p.m.

Cooney said Hartford’s specialized high angle rescue gear allowed responders to evacuate Bracy by loading him onto a specific type of litter that could be partially attached to an ATV unit for support to navigate the sharply sloped terrain.

A Woodstock ambulance crew then drove Bracy a mile and a half to Erwin Clifford Park in West Hartford, where a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center helicopter was waiting to transport him to the hospital.

At Mid Vermont, administrators described how a small, tight-knit community of 100 students and 20 faculty members was drawing on its shared Christian faith to help with the news.

“It wasn’t ‘we’re going to have a moment of silence,’ ” said Deborah Hellickson, elementary school principal. “This is a family thing, and he’s part of our family.”

Bracy earned a master’s of divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary in 1986, and a masters in educational leadership from Cairn University in 2006. Since taking the MVCS headmaster post in 1999, he has built a strong relationship with students, faculty and staff, said Seale.

“He loves people,” he said. “He has a big heart for people, and for serving.”

At the school on Monday, Hellickson led a 45-minute corporate prayer, in which roughly three-quarters of the younger students chose to express their thankfulness and hope in a group setting, sometimes through tears.

“Children are very sincere when they pray,” Hellickson said. “They’re not just saying the words.”

The children prayed for help — help for the doctors to know what to do, for the family to know how to handle the pain, and for Bracy to be able to let his body heal.

“I talked about the things that we could be thankful for,” Hellickson said. “That he had good care at the hospital. That he had the help he needed to get off the mountain. We were able to be thankful that his family was with him.”

A similar session was held for the high school students. Hellickson said she had a pile of student-made get-well-soon cards sitting on her desk, waiting to be transported to the hospital, and that other members of the community were offering more tangible help to the Bracy family by providing food, transportation and emotional support during the crisis.

Seale said that, as terrible as the tragedy is, it also represents a test, and a teaching moment, for the young people in the community.

“Tragedy strikes all of us. It is not avoidable. And the Bible talks about, we’re going to face hardships,” he said. “How we choose to walk through that will determine the trajectory of our lives. … We walk by faith, and learn and grow and trust through the process. That’s what I really hope the kids walk away with.”

Seale said the board was meeting with senior staff on Monday evening to discuss how to run the school in Bracy’s absence, which he believes will involve a long period of recovery in the best of circumstances.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.