Dec. 6—When her son Pat was in elementary school, Sally Stockwell Metro got a call from the parent of a kindergartener who rode the same bus. The mother told Sally that bullies were picking on her daughter, and Pat sat with her so she would feel safe.
Years later, Pat Metro was working as a recovery coach at Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland when he met Janelle Stambaugh during the throes of her addiction. She told him she wasn't ready for recovery, and he accepted that answer without judgment and stayed in touch with her for more than a year until she was.
"I had given up, and everybody else had given up on me," said Stambaugh. "But Pat stuck by me."
Pat Metro died Nov. 23 of a sudden brain hemorrhage at age 37. His family, friends and people in Portland's addiction recovery community said he could talk to anyone he met and showed up for everyone in his life. He was firm in his beliefs but gentle in his approach, ready with an odd fact or a witty comeback, unfailingly kind and calm.
"He only had friends," said Gabriel Carter, who worked in sober houses with him.
Metro grew up in Williston, Vermont, the older of two brothers. Will and Sally Metro described him as a sensitive kid, an avid reader and a history buff from a young age. Their family traveled widely, starting from his first trip to England when he was just 5 months old to visit relatives. As a teenager, he would go off on his own during those trips to explore a new city and wind up getting invited to a party with new friends. When the conversation at a family gathering turned to politics, he was always ready to jump in and argue.
"You didn't want to bring up history or politics if you didn't have a long time ahead of you," his mom said with a laugh. "Because you'd get him started, and you couldn't stop him."
When Metro was in high school, he earned a seat on the student council. He wasn't a popular kid and found his friends outside of the "cool" cliques, but that's why he wanted to join. "I represent the people you don't," he told the council. Unsure of what career he wanted, Metro later majored in history at Castleton University in Vermont.
His parents did not realize he was using heroin until after he graduated. His mom found needles in his pocket as she was doing his laundry. Sally Metro, a doctor, reached out to a colleague who specialized in addiction medicine. Pat Metro spent years in and out of treatment.
In 2015, he completed an inpatient program in Minnesota and decided he could not maintain his recovery if he moved back to Vermont. Instead, he went to the Foundation House, a transitional sober living community in Portland. During his six months there, he met Lester Gilkey and Gabriel Carter, who lived at a neighboring recovery house. The three soon became friends. Later, when Gilkey and Carter started running their own sober houses, they knew they wanted Metro on their team. He started working with them and also as a certified peer support specialist in recovery spaces.
Gilkey said he trusted Metro with anything: his taxes, his passwords ("I'm going to be screwed, I don't remember them"), his kids.
"He wasn't like most people, trying to impress anyone," said Gilkey.
Sally Metro said her son spent his teenage years uncertain about his path in life but finally found his purpose in the recovery community.
"He actually found his cause in life," she said. "He was really good at it. He brought all of his people skills to bear."
'HE SAVED SO MANY PEOPLE'
In 2019, Gilkey started working as a recovery coach in the rapid access treatment program at Mercy Hospital, which connects patients in emergency care with medication-assisted treatment. Gilkey knew the caseload was too much for one person, and he again knew Metro would be right for the job.
"He helped us better understand our patients," said Katie Kerr, who was his supervisor. "He helped our patients better understand what is a complicated health care system broadly. But most importantly, Pat offered hope to people who didn't always have it."
Sadie Knott is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and the lead provider for the rapid access treatment program at Mercy. She said Metro helped patients feel more comfortable and trusting because he shared their experiences. He coordinated appointments and gave rides, once picking up a patient before dawn for a 5 a.m. surgery.
"There's just so much I have learned from him that I did not learn in any of my other training," she said.
Brittney Dunham is one of the founders of Maine Access Points, a harm reduction agency and syringe service provider. She was introduced to Metro years ago through Gilkey and Carter, and he immediately wanted to help with her work. She said Metro found his recovery through the 12-step process and remained committed to Narcotics Anonymous, but he was also open to other paths toward recovery.
Dunham likes to picture him sitting in a room of suited hospital executives while wearing a vest covered with punk-band patches.
"He was a huge dude, like tall and big," she said. "He never looked like he fit in, and he always looked like he was more comfortable than anybody else."
Kelsey Burrell first saw Metro in the crowd at a punk show shortly after she moved to Portland in 2019. She liked his beard and the band on his T-shirt. "Pat was just totally my type," she said. But she didn't know how to approach his group of friends and instead decided to hang by the bar in case he came that way.
Her plan didn't work — she didn't know he wasn't drinking — but she got a second chance when they matched on OkCupid. They had just started seeing each other when the COVID-19 pandemic began and they decided to quarantine together.
"Neither one of us was looking for love," said Burrell. "I was just looking to meet cool people and check out Maine. We had both given up on the idea of a long-term relationship. And then we fell in love, very, very hard."
They liked the same music, hiking and getting lost in the woods together, trying new restaurants on Friday date nights. They went to punk shows and explored old cemeteries. They lived together in Westbrook and planned to start looking next year for a house where they could have a large garden. He was interested in learning more about mental health. She described him as "the best person I've ever met," ready to answer the phone at 2 a.m. when a patient called, always empathetic and never judgmental. He had just realized a major dream: he and Lester bought and opened a sober house.
He would say that he loved his work because, Burrell said, "he loved addicts." She would jokingly poke at him: Did he even love the ones he hadn't met? How could that be possible? "He was like, 'Yes, I love them all.'" His work could be stressful, but he never let it get to him.
"He would say, 'It's worth it if I could even save one person,'" she said. "And he saved so many people."
Stambaugh was one of those patients who met Metro in the hospital. He asked her, "Would you like somebody to talk to?" He kept checking in, calling when he hadn't heard from her in a while, meeting up for coffee, telling her to think bigger about her life. Because of him, she started working in peer support at the Living Room Crisis Center in Portland and is working to become a case manager.
"I think we all came to rely on Pat as somebody who would always be there," she said.
Friends and family will gather to remember Metro at noon Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 145 Jetport Blvd., Portland. His family said anyone wishing to further his mission can make a donation to Spectrum Youth and Family Services (spectrumvt.org) in Burlington, Vermont, Operation Hope (portlandrecovery.org) in Maine or Milestone Recovery Center (milestone-recovery.org) in Portland.