LEWISTON — Fred Jordan got his medical start as a teenage orderly at Central Maine General Hospital, asking doctors if he could peek in on operations and autopsies after-shift.

He spent the bulk of his career — 32 years — as the chief medical examiner for Oklahoma. He was leading the office when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.

He moved back to Maine in 2004, to Poland and the house he’d built for his mother, but not particularly to retire and relax.

At 76, Jordan is a deputy chief medical examiner for Maine. As of three years ago, he’s also a chaplain. 

When he talks, Jordan is clinical but warm and self-effacing: “I’m much better in an emergency than I am on a day-to-day basis,” he said, laughing.

He was recognized at the Blaine House earlier this month by two hospice groups as the Maine Home Care Volunteer of the Year.

Every Thursday, he’s at Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice calling patients and families to check in on their comfort and needs. Every Sunday, he’s at the Hospice House.

“I try to be present with people as they go through things and I try to help them work things through, and I listen a lot,” Jordan said. “Service is what it’s all about. There are many different ways to serve.”

Jordan grew up in the Mechanic Falls area. His father was a high school principal. His mother was a teacher. He worked school vacations and summers at the hospital.

“I would wander over toward the nursing school when I’d get off duty at 11 and look up and see if the light was on in the autopsy room, and if it was I’d go up and ask Dr. Branch if I could come in and watch,” Jordan said. “I used to do the same thing with the OR. Things were a lot less formal in those days. That might be why I got interested in medicine, but I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in medicine.”

He chose Oklahoma to work after college because that job offered a chance to teach at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and he was interested in living in the South. Jordan planned to stay two years. The decades got away from him.

He was in his office a mile away on the “quiet, beautiful spring morning” that a bomb ripped through the Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people and injured hundreds of others.

“It shook some of the pictures off our walls,” Jordan said.

For two years, he oversaw the long process of working the crime scene, helping families and navigating the court system.

“That was my baby, and a very interesting, very learning process,” he said. “Most people think that I’m pretty tough — I guess in some ways I am — but I’m not really tough inside. Sharing, I guess, is the best answer to that. Sharing with your employees, sharing with police, sharing with hospitals and particularly sharing with victims.”

He sat with many families who called his office with a question he’d never expected: Sure, their loved one had been positively identified, but it didn’t sit right that they’d never seen the proof themselves, no matter how grisly. Could they look?

Jordan would invite those families in, visit and eventually pull aside the one person he felt appeared the strongest to share his evidence.

“Then we might show them a picture of Aunt Bea’s hand with a ring. When you seemed ready to deal with it, then we would show you other things,” Jordan said. That person would decide if the rest of the family should see or if it was too much. “It worked really well.”

On the medical front, he’s now semi-retired. From Tuesdays at 4 p.m. to Wednesdays at 8 a.m., he’s responsible for calls to the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office, sometimes visiting crime scenes. He also teaches at a medical school in Grenada twice a year.

In addition to hospice work, he’s the chaplain at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and Mid Coast Hospital’s Senior Health Center in Brunswick. 

Jordan graduated three years ago from the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and said he was surprised they accepted him.

“As I did my medical examiner work, not the least of which was the bombing, I discovered that a lot of the forensics was relatively easy for me, but what wasn’t easy and made me grow was dealing with families. As time went by, I thought, ‘Is this chaplaincy thing somewhere in the back of my mind?'”

The roots of it, too, can be traced to his orderly work at Central Maine General Hospital.

Jordan said he’d be called to the emergency room to help in a pinch. One day, when he was 16, a couple who had been in a terrible accident came through the door.

He found himself alone in the X-ray room with their dying baby boy. The parents had a French last name. He guessed they were Roman Catholic.

“There was nobody else there but me. Me and the Lord. Something said to me, ‘You need to baptize this baby,'” Jordan said.

He wasn’t sure at all what he was doing, but it felt like the right thing.

“Right after I baptized the baby, the baby died,” Jordan said.

Fifteen minutes later, the priest from St. Joseph’s Church arrived.

“I said, ‘Ooh, I’m probably in trouble because I’m just a Protestant,’ and I told the priest what I’d done,” Jordan said. “He was very, very, very grateful. I think that made a big impression.”

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