It had been a couple of days since Sheilah McLaughlin had heard from her twin sister, who lived alone a mile up the road in Cape Elizabeth.

Her sister hadn’t been answering calls, and McLaughlin’s worst fear came true when she decided to go check on her. She found her dead.

Among the first responders was Duncan Perry, 69, a volunteer with the Trauma Intervention Program. He offered water to McLaughlin, 53, and even got some for her sister’s dog. He provided information about funeral homes and acted as a liaison between her and police.

But there was one thing he did, McLaughlin said, that helped her the most.

“He said, ‘Tell me about your sister,’ ” she recalled.

In the past year, Perry has responded to 19 emergencies, from house fires to drug overdoses, providing tissues, information and sympathy to victims, their families and bystanders.


He’s one of 25 volunteers who work three, 12-hour shifts a month to make sure the service is offered around the clock to the people of Greater Portland.

A retired college administrator, Perry often fills in for others who can’t make their shifts.

“Duncan really gets the 24-7 mind-set,” said Leslie Skillin, manager of the Maine Behavioral Healthcare program. “Being able to respond in a moment’s notice is just another level of dedication.”

Skillin said it takes certain characteristics to be a TIP volunteer, including courage and a willingness to face the unknown. Along with those qualities, she said, Perry gives his undivided attention to the people he’s helping – and has a great sense of humor.

McLaughlin said that came in handy in the first moments when she was dealing with her sister’s death that day in September, when she was first reprimanded by an officer for altering the scene by covering her sister with a blanket and when she got a call from someone with a wrong number, trying to reach a car dealership.

“Duncan just looked at me and started laughing,” she said. “He responded to who I was. He picked up that humor was the way to get through the next couple hours.”


Perry, whose education and career have taken him all over the country, moved to Maine two years ago, but he didn’t hesitate to start giving back.

At first, he joined Volunteers in Police Service in Scarborough, where he lives with his wife.

It was at a meeting of that group that Skillin gave a presentation about the Trauma Intervention Program, which Perry jumped at the opportunity to join as well.

“I believe that when you live in a community, you have the responsibility to contribute to that community,” he said.

– Leslie Bridgers

Read all of our profiles of Mainers to be thankful for in 2015.

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