Alaskan Pastor Mauled By Brown Bear

Anchorage Daily News, Bear Hunting Magazine
07/03/2007

Tom Patmor doesn't remember what happened after he tried decking the grizzly sow that attacked him near his Clam Gulch, Alaska, home Wednesday.

He knows his right fist missed the snout and ended up in the grizzly's jaws. The bear's teeth crunched a wrist bone and separated tendons, Patmor said from his Soldotna hospital room on Thursday. Somehow, he ended up with scratches on his back and head.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Patmor, 49, the colorful pastor of a small church in Clam Gulch.

Residents in the unincorporated community, who call Patmor their unofficial mayor because he fights for better government service, plan an auction Sunday to help with medical bills.

"He's like a legend around here," said Jeannette Whiteley, Clam Shell Lodge manager.

Patmor owns two purple Lincoln Continentals, a purple house along the highway and mostly wears purple -- his favorite color. He was walking his dog -- yep, the dog house is purple -- down Blueberry Avenue near his highway home late Wednesday morning.

Harvey, a Rottweiler mix, barked. A sow with two cubs stepped from trees into a grassy clearing about 45 feet away. The grizzly family dashed along the clearing -- basically a pipeline easement crossing the road -- passing Patmor and the dog.

But after crossing the road, the sow stopped 10 yards away. It turned, and blasted straight toward them.

Harvey fled. Patmor froze.

"I didn't have a chance to run away," he said.

The bear reached him in a split second and Patmor swung. The quick attack ended when a Homer woman headed for Soldotna turned down the road and honked, scaring the sow away, Patmor said.

"They were going to tell me they'd seen bears in my yard," Patmor said.

The woman and her daughter, whose names Patmor couldn't remember, drove them home. Inside, Patmor washed blood from his hand. The woman called an ambulance.

"This woman seemed more frightened than I was," he said. "I don't get that riled up. I been around a lot of big animals before."

At Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna, surgeons operated on his shredded hand Wednesday, tying at least two tendons to bones with wires and stitching holes, he said. The doctor told him he'll have full use of his hand.

Patmor has been bombarded with calls and hospital visits, including Clam Gulch residents bearing purple roses, he said.

The former North Slope laborer moved to Clam Gulch in 1979. He heads the Universal Life Church in the community of about 300, a popular clam digging area with a lodge and post office for a business district.

Residents, who call him Brother Tom, say he voluntarily hauls trash, marries couples and cuts firewood for single mothers. He's gotten the state to put signs along the highway encouraging people to slow down as they pass Clam Gulch, including an electronic billboard that blinks motorists' speed.

"He helps out anyone who needs help," said Sharene Gage, the lodge's head cook.



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