Local man who left his mark on community given unique honor
By Luke Groskopf
Journal Staff Writer
Douglas J. Bedker spent his adult life rescuing motorists from all kind of mishaps. He responded to the mundane - flat tires, dead batteries, empty gas tanks. He also came to the aid of people caught in precarious, sometimes life-threatening situations - those who suffered a traumatic head-on collision or an icy spin into a roadside ditch. He comforted the ones whose beloved subcompact, SUV or pick-up truck was totalled beyond repair. Then he hauled it away.
Doug Bedker was a towman.
During his 26-year career, he lent a helping hand to thousands of people spanning the Four Corners region. But it was all cut short on October 14, 2011. That day, near Mancos, Bedker suffered a fatal heart attack while hitching up a motor home for tow back to Cortez. He was 48.
A loyal servant to the industry since 1985, Bedker worked for multiple companies, including Triple R Towing, before branching out on his own. He founded Doug's Quality Towing in May 2005.
He is survived by three children and wife, Leah, who recounted her husband's fondness for his job.
"(Towing) was Doug's life. His life was dedicated to it. He was on call and ready all the time. His motto was that he worked 25 hours a day, eight days a week," Leah said. "He liked being able to help people in trouble. He was a giver."
Doug's reputation for honest, reliable service and his genuine personality made him an esteemed figure in town, and the community mobilized after his death to organize a memorial procession.
Starting near the southern city limits, a long convoy of law enforcement vehicles and tow trucks rumbled up South Broadway and onto Main Street.
Even business rivals have kind things to say.
"Doug was my number one competitor," said Steve Blair, owner of Blair's Towing. "But he was my neighbor and my friend. We didn't let the competition get in the way."
The two companies worked in concert to cover different segments of Montezuma County. Blair says he coordinated with auto dealerships, while Doug handled most calls coming from Towaoc and AAA members. The relationship was symbiotic and good-natured.
"If he needed help, he'd call me. If I needed help, I'd call him," Blair recalled. "Doug was fair. I never had problems when I referred customers to him. I knew he wouldn't take advantage of them. He'd just take care of them."
A major client for both was law enforcement - the Cortez Police Department, Cortez Fire Protection District, Montezuma County Sheriff's Office and Colorado State Patrol. Each agency has a rotation schedule to avoid showing favoritism to one towing business over another.
Leah Bedker said her husband grew close to several officers and deputies, part of the reason they turned out en masse for the parade.
"I've never seen such dedication in a tow operator," said State Patrol Sgt. Matt Ozanik. "He'd answer a call anytime of day or night."
In the months following Doug's death, Leah Bedker learned of the International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn. The museum features a Hall of Fame to recognize men and women who made important contributions to the field - 273 by last count. But it also has a second, more solemn assemblage: The Wall of the Fallen, reserved for tow operators who lost their lives on the job. The "first class" of 94 inductees were engraved into the granite wall in 2007. Dozens more have followed. Most are from the United States, but true to the museum's name, it is open to towing professionals from overseas, too (13 countries are represented so far).
In spring of last year, Leah submitted the paperwork, and the museum's board approved Doug eligibility for the Wall, along with 33 others. A commemoration ceremony took place in Chattanooga last September 15th: Doug's birthday.
Leah described the scene. An imposing statue of a tow worker rescuing two people from a drowning car served as a poignant backdrop. Two cranes hoisted aloft a giant American flag. Loved ones made chalk and paper etchings of the names. Industry bigwigs paid homage. The fallen were called one by one, with a brief biography for each. How long they'd been in the industry. Family they left behind.
While the crowd of 600 were mostly strangers, a sense of solidarity permeated the air. They were all present for the same reason.
"It's good for family members to know they aren't grieving on their own. They connect," museum director Cheryl Mish said.
Doug Bedker's memory lives on, but his local company is no more. Leah elected to shut it down rather than sell to another owner.
"Doug had a good name," Steve Blair said. "Leah didn't want to take a chance that somebody could tarnish the reputation he left. She made the decision to close the doors and leave on a good note."