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Police Awards: Inspiring

The sound of rain pounding down on the tent set up near the visitor’s center at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site didn’t dampen spirits at the presentation of awards to police by the Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA). The TRA Executive Director Laurence Pels talked about President Theodore Roosevelt’s history of fighting medical problems as the focus of the awards given to police officers who returned to duty after battling illness.

The TRA established the Theodore Roosevelt Police Awards in New York City in 1983 to honor TR’s distinguished service as president of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City from 1895 to 1897, and in recognition of his enduring admiration for the police. He rose to that post—and a life of public service—after overcoming debilitating illness in his youth.

As of 2012, more than 150 officers, from 13 communities including Boston, Washington, D.C. (as of 2004), Dallas, Indiana (as of 2012), Los Angeles (as of 2002), Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego (as of 2012), Nassau and Suffolk Counties and Western New York State, have been honored with Theodore Roosevelt Police Awards. TRA executive director Pels announced that this year they are offering discounted memberships to those officers who have received the award [$50 instead of $65].  

Pels said that at age 14, TR was told by his father that he had the mind but not the body to succeed and that “without the body you can’t do all the things that your mind can.” That started TR on his path to the Strenuous Life. It was a life that was filled with public service jobs as well as feats of physical daring including going to Africa on Safari and exploring the Amazon River of Doubt by boat.  

As the New York City Police Commissioner he reformed, modernized and trained the force. He was known for his midnight tours of New York with journalist Jacob Reis that lead to reforms he instituted as police commissioner and later as governor and president. They included comparative sealed biding for contracts, and civil service. In the end, TR said, “There are no men better anywhere than the NYC Police Force.” Pels added that a detail of NYC police officers were the honor guard at the 26th President’s  funeral.

The Ceremony

Past TRA Interim Executive Director Howard Ehrlich read the names of past honorees, some of whom were present. The awards were presented by their respective Police Commissioners: Nassau’s Thomas V. Dale presented the award to N.C.P.O. Peter Chuchul and Suffolk’s Edward Weber presented the award to Suffolk Detective Lieutenant John (Jack) Fitzpatrick.

NCPO Chuchul had cancer of the spine and after surgery unfortunately was one of 25 patients who contract C-5 Palsy afterwards. The episode happens 10 to 14 days after surgery. His nerves shut down and he couldn’t use his arms or legs. “I was a plant in the house at Christmas and spent seven weeks in a chair.” He had to learn how to walk again, and credits his wife, Paula for helping him recover. He said it took him months to get off taking morphine that he used to endure the pain. After physical therapy he is back on the job.   

Chuchul added that the award includes a monetary gift which he was donating to the TRA’s Teddy Bear Fund that gives the toys to children in hospitals across the nation; the American Red Cross; and to the Oklahoma Rehabilitation Fund. Commissioner Dale said Chuchul was back on full duty and has inspired everyone.

Suffolk’s Edward Weber presented the award to Suffolk Detective Lieutenant John (Jack) Fitzpatrick. Weber introduced the homicide detective saying, “Jack is the best of the best.” Fitzpatrick had a rare form of cancer and was treated at Sloane Kettering followed by five months of therapy. In two months he was back and on full duty. He credited his wife, family and his police buddies for their support. Fitzpatrick said he has been a police officer for 38 years, breaking a family tradition of serving in the fire department. At age 10 he experienced a traumatic fire at Woolworths with his grandmother; additionally he said he was afraid of heights, one of the needed qualities of a firefighter. “Police work appealed to me,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said he was given a behind the scene tour of a station that revealed “a slice of life the rest of the world doesn’t get to see,” and he was hooked. He said in returning to service that it was because of the camaraderie; and the excitement that is part of the work on the police force; as well as the level of satisfaction of doing the work that all hurried him back to full duty. He offered the life lesson of staying focused on the end result you want, never take your eyes off the goal to get better. As TR put it, “Keep your eye on the stars and your feet on the ground.”

The ceremony started with the combined police bagpipe bands entering with the flag squad, and ended with a festive lunch under the tent, served by Ginny and Jay Perrell of Friends of Sagamore Hill, aided by Brother Lawrence Syriac the FOSH chairman.  

It was the first time “out of the box” for Eric Witzke,

SHNHPS chief of Preservation and Maintenance now serving as the interim superintendent after Thomas Ross announced he is going to New Jersey to be superintendent of Thomas Edison and Morristown National Parks.

Douglas Manditch, CEO of Empire National Bank, a prime sponsor of the event (along with the Friends of Sagamore Hill) made some welcoming remarks.

According to the FOSH newsletter “the pipers played a medley of military marches. Nassau Police Lt. Gustave Kalin, played ‘Taps’ for the seventh year in a row.”

It was an inspiring afternoon and worked to whet the appetite for next year’s award ceremony, no matter what the weather.