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December 3, 2010 > Even in an ambulance, Havertown man casts his vote

Even in an ambulance, Havertown man casts his vote

By Joelle Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Submitted By AP Wire Service

HAVERTOWN, Pa. (AP), Nov 05 - Fewer than half of Pennsylvania's 8.5 million registered voters troubled themselves to cast ballots in Tuesday's election.

But voting wasn't too much trouble for Charles K. Gorby, 83, of Havertown. He did it lying flat on a gurney, his feet sticking out from the voting-booth curtains.

A Navy veteran and retired physician, Gorby was coming home via ambulance after a two-week hospital stay that left him too weak to stand. He asked the driver whether he could stop at the Brookline Fire Company station a few blocks from his home.

Gorby hadn't missed an election since he cast his first vote at age 21. He wasn't going to miss one now.

``I really didn't do a damn thing except what everyone's supposed to do,'' Gorby said Thursday, sitting at home and covered neck-to-toe in a red-and-green plaid blanket, two of his granddaughters whispering to each other nearby.

Praise for Gorby's gumption and sense of duty came from near and far.

U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement who suffered beatings and arrests for his role in securing voting rights for African Americans, said he was touched and amazed to hear about Gorby, calling it ``a lesson to all of us.''

``This gentleman, 83 years old, coming from the hospital, realized that people suffered and struggled, and some people died for the right,'' said Lewis, 70, an 11-term Georgia congressman. ``So many other people who are able to walk to the poll decided not to take the short walk . . . to vote.

``Here in the South, when I was growing up in Alabama, people had to take literacy tests, people had to interpret sections of the Constitution to vote,'' he said. ``Black lawyers, black doctors, and black teachers . . . and if they could answer, they were asked to count the number of jelly beans in a jar.

``There were people beaten, shot, and killed for attempting to register to vote,'' Lewis said.

``The vote, for me, is precious. Almost sacred.''

Forty-five years after Alabama troopers confronted Lewis and other voting-rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (``We were beaten, tear gassed, trampled by horses,'' he recalled), voting has never been easier. Registration takes minutes.

Both major parties call, e-mail, and knock on doors to remind supporters to vote and offer transport to the polls. Online widgets can give voters their correct polling location within seconds of learning their home address.

Yet only about 46 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters showed up Tuesday to pick their next governor, U.S. senator, and representative to Congress.

And for a non-presidential election, 46 percent is high. In Gorby's home county, Delaware, turnout was estimated at just over 50 percent.

News of Gorby's vote brought television cameras and newspaper reporters swarming to his Brookline Boulevard home, where he has lived for 51 years with his wife, Louise. Five of his grandchildren, ages 3 to 17, milled about in the living room as Gorby recounted his 62 years of voting.

He enlisted in the Navy at age 17. Back then, the voting age was 21.

``If a man can get himself killed, why the hell shouldn't he vote?'' Gorby asked, recalling his first yearnings to cast a ballot.

The G.I. Bill helped him follow his father's footsteps into pharmacy. He earned a Ph.D. in pharmacology and a medical degree and became a physician.

Gorby retired from medicine about five years ago, when his health began to fail. He preferred not to discuss the details of his ailments.

``I now know illness from both sides,'' he said. ``It's a lot more fun to be the doctor.''

On Tuesday, Gorby left Lankenau Hospital in an ambulance, and asked whether it was possible to make an extra stop a few blocks from his home.

``I wanted to make sure I was not diverting the ambulance away from a more pressing issue,'' he said.

But the medics alongside him agreed. One of them fetched a voting official, who lugged the register book out to the gurney so Gorby could apply his John Hancock.

Inside the polling place, Gorby became a kind of mission. ``They immediately came apart in there and said, 'Sure, bring him in,' `` he said.

They wheeled him into one of the firehouse bays. A line of voters parted to let him go first.

In the booth, Gorby had to arrange himself to vote. He turned onto his left side, pressed buttons for his choices, and finally sank his finger into the ``vote'' key.

As for his choices? The only one he would talk about was Republican Pat Toomey, who won election to the Senate. Gorby said it pained him to vote against a fellow ex-Navy man, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. (``I have been registered Democrat, I have been registered Republican,'' he said. ``I don't want to be taken for granted.'')

Gorby said Thursday he hoped he had instilled in his three children a sense of responsibility and the importance of citizenship.

With his granddaughters Tabitha, 10, and Marianne, 7, flanking him to pose for pictures, Gorby quipped, ``Boy, oh, boy! A thorn between two roses here.''

Then, referring to all the attention he was getting, he said he'd need a new shtick next Election Day if he wants to attract another crowd.

``If the next one beats this,'' Gorby said, ``it'll really have to be something.''

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