Ledyard car crash victim remembered as 'encourager,' lover of Christ

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Ledyard — Loved ones spoke Thursday night of Clarence "Chuck" Montgomery, a 59-year-old Ledyard resident who was killed in a car crash in Franklin on Wednesday night, as someone who loved the Lord and was always a teacher and encourager of others.

"His heart's as big as the Grand Canyon," said his wife, Sherry Montgomery. "He loved to help people, and first and foremost, he loved the Lord."

Sherry spoke to The Day on Thursday night from her home in Ledyard, where she was surrounded by friends and family.

Connecticut State Police said that just before 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, Montgomery was driving north on Route 32 near Dobrucki Road while another driver was traveling south. Montgomery veered into the southbound lane and collided head-on with the other car, the incident report from police said.

Both drivers, neither of whom had any passengers, were taken to the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, where Montgomery was pronounced dead. Police said the other driver had minor injuries.

Sherry said her husband had heart problems, so the crash could have been caused by a cardiac event, but that was undetermined.

Kelly Walker, an administrator at Waterford Country School, said Montgomery was on his way to work at the school's satellite office in North Windham when the accident happened.

Sherry said her husband had been going to New Life Christian Fellowship for about 20 years. Rev. Johnny Burns Sr. called Montgomery "one of my oldest spiritual sons" and noted that he was licensed as a minister of the Gospel.

"He's probably one of the nicest, kindest gentlemen that I ever, ever met, and he loved the Lord, and he loved to encourage people," said Vincent Sebastian Jr., who described himself as Montgomery's "spiritual brother." He said Montgomery did prison ministries at Corrigan-Radgowski, Janet S. York and Enfield correctional institutions.

"He was an encourager, and he loved doing field work, prison ministry and street ministry," Sherry said. Walker said the message Montgomery gave to people in prison was, "It's not done. There's life after this. You have to turn around; you have to get it together."

Turning his life around to help kids

In 2003, Montgomery told The Day that he had spent the better part of 25 years in a drug gang in New Jersey and was in and out of jail, but when he came up to southeastern Connecticut, Frank Jennette of Jennette Construction "offered me an opportunity to better myself."

Montgomery said at the time, "At 42 years, you either have it or you don't. No one was really going to hire me, especially with a less-than-stellar criminal background. I was dead in the water. He helped me, and now I have skills."

Sherry, who has been with Montgomery for 26 years, said they relocated to Ledyard because his cousin needed help with his paint company, and Montgomery briefly worked for Jennette after that.

Through New Life Christian Fellowship, he met his friend Kelly Walker, who got him a job at Waterford Country School, which serves children with behavioral and emotional needs.

Walker called Montgomery a straight shooter and someone who didn't sugar-coat things, and similarly, Burns described him as someone "who said what he meant and meant what he said."

Walker recalled numerous instances of Montgomery helping him, whether it was doing "handyman stuff" around the house; putting together a nursery for his son, who is now 16; or helping him remodel his restaurant, Big Belly Kelly's. As Walker has fought cancer, he said Montgomery has always been there for him.

"I'm hurt that he's left this earth, but I know that he got his wings, and I know that he is in heaven," Walker said.

Sherry said her husband is survived by four adult children, two who live in the area and two who are in New Jersey. Also in New Jersey is Montgomery's sister, Betty Matthews, who described her brother as her "bodyguard" and her "defender."

"He ran the streets but he wouldn't let me run the streets," she said of their childhood in Camden, recalling that their mother didn't have much but got them calculators for Christmas one year.

Matthews recalled that when a boy was teasing her in school, all Montgomery — who was always tall — had to do was show up and not say a word, and it scared the boy.

He "turned his life around, and he used all of his background to help other people," Matthews said. "All of his crazy stuff he went through down here, he went up there to help young people go the straight path and not choose the wrong path."

While Matthews misses her older brother, she is grateful that she saw him just a couple weeks ago, when he went to New Jersey for her daughter's sweet 16 celebration.

e.moser@theday.com

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