Niskayuna

Niskayuna woman in coronavirus quarantine as husband of 38 years passes at Ellis; Must say goodbye by phone

Coronavirus quarantine protocols prevented Millie Gittinger from visiting her dying husband at Ellis Hospital
Clark and Millie Gittinger strike hikers’ poses outside their home in Niskayuna during the fall of 1997.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Clark and Millie Gittinger strike hikers’ poses outside their home in Niskayuna during the fall of 1997.

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

Clark Gittinger of Niskayuna passed away at Ellis Hospital on March 28 after a short illness.

But he wasn’t alone.

Millie Gittinger, Clark’s wife and partner in mountain adventures and world exploration, was close by in spirit and in memory.

Due to the nation’s coronavirus health crisis, Millie could not come to her husband’s hospital room in late March. She had to say her farewell by telephone.

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The Schenectady County Health Department recently had contacted the couple, concerned they might have been exposed to the virus.

“They asked how we were feeling,” Millie said during a phone conversation Friday afternoon. “They said, ‘Someone at the luncheon you were at has come down with the virus,’ they wouldn’t tell us who it was.

“They said, ‘How are you?'” Millie added. “And Clark was feeling fine at that point, but I had some cold symptoms. So they said, ‘You’ll have to self-quarantine for two weeks,’ which would end on April 4.”

Clark, 89, was taken to Ellis on Monday, March 23, after not feeling well. A test for coronavirus proved negative.

Millie, not permitted to leave the couple’s home, kept in touch with her husband during daily phone conversations.

“I talked to him Friday night, he sounded really good, the best he’d sounded in a long time,” Millie said. “He was feeling great and he told me they had given him everything that day, they really worked him over.”

The Gittingers, who were married for 38 years, were familiar with exercises that could tire people.

During the fall of 1997, the longtime hikers and outdoor enthusiasts completed their hike of the celebrated Appalachian Trail, walking the final 6.5 miles with friends at Mt. Everett State Reservation in Massachusetts. An account of their adventure later appeared in The Daily Gazette.

They climbed all 111 high peaks in the Northeast, a feat that included the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. The couple toured all 50 states, visited the Canadian provinces and traveled to Antarctica three times, among other trips.

“We went on a wonderful trip, a cruise on the Mississippi River in November and had a great time,” Millie said. “I’m so thankful we had that trip.”

Clark, an electrical engineer with the General Electric Co., worked 37 years with the Global Research & Development Center, formerly the General Engineering Lab.

Following his retirement in 1989, he volunteered with a group of GE Volunteers (formerly GE Elfuns) repairing talking book machines for the New York State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Clark also volunteered with the Schenectady Light Opera Company, where he worked in set construction and on the stage crew. He also enjoyed the Schenectady Symphony, classical programs at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and occasional trips to the new Metropolitan Opera Company.

Millie, 90, a former occupational therapist at Sunnyview Hospital who remains active — she teaches adaptive skiing to the disabled at Double H Ranch in the Adirondacks — cherishes her memories with Clark.

“Life is to be lived,” she said. “We enjoyed it.”

Millie said her husband’s condition worsened on Saturday, March 28.

“They had called me and asked about his final wishes, what he wanted … he had said a long time ago he didn’t want any radical measures to keep him alive,” she said.

Medical staffers respected those wishes. They asked Millie if she wanted to say goodbye in person.

“A nurse said, ‘Would you like to come in to see him?’ and I said ‘I can’t, I’m in quarantine,'” Millie said. “So I said, ‘Would you be able to hold the phone to his ear so I could at least talk to him?’ And they did that and I talked to him.”

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A little after 9 p.m. on Saturday, the hospital called and said Clark had passed away.

“I knew a chaplain, Dwight Moore, had been in to see him and had anointed him, and I was very thankful for that,” Millie said.

The last conversation with Clark was simple.

“I was just telling him that I loved him and I missed him,” Millie said.

“He was not conscious at that point. But I know he heard me.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected].

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