Admired Hartford Officer Donald Healey Leaving Force
Said To Be Nation's Longest-Serving
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
November 23, 2007
On April 4, 1968, in the hours following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., enraged Hartford residents burned down the Stop & Shop Supermarket on Albany Avenue.
Almost all the businesses in the city's North End went up in flames — forcing police officers to shut down major roadways.
Patrolman Donald R. Healey, who was then in his second decade as a Hartford police officer, stayed on his motorcycle, blocking traffic, for eight hours that night, so the firetrucks could get safely to the burning buildings.
"It was mayhem," said Healey of the burning and looting that went on for three days. The police department set up bunks at the old Morgan Street jail so cops like Healey — who stands about 6 feet tall and carries himself with the persona of a John Wayne character — could get some shut-eye.
That was but one of the half-century of memorable moments for Officer Healey, 72, who retires today after 50 years with the Hartford Police Department. He is believed by Hartford officials to be the longest-serving police officer in the nation. Now, it's time to "smell the roses" with his wife of 46 years, Judith.
Healey this week recalled some of the significant moments in a long, well-respected career. Such as the morning of Jan. 18, 1978, when the roof caved in at the Hartford Civic Center.
"You've got to suit up," Healey recalled his lieutenant's orders about 4 a.m. "It snowed so hard that the roof collapsed. It was a good things that it happened early in the morning. There was a game there the night before and a lot of people could have been hurt," Healey said.
Just another day's work for "Heals," as he is known to his fellow cops and countless friends.
"It's an historic moment," said Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts. "He's been here longer than I've been alive. He's an example of what our officers should become. He was dedicated to providing a good service and stayed committed to doing something he had a passion for."
Healey, a graduate of Bulkeley High School, was working at Andy's service station on the Berlin Turnpike when his childhood friend Charles J. Fisher Jr. suggested they join the Hartford police department.
The year was 1957, and the job promised to provide stable pay and secure employment.
It did that, and gave him his identity.
"It's entirely what he is," said Healey's daughter Staci. "He looks like a policeman. He wore that role well."
"He's always been a decent guy," said Fisher, who has known Healey since they were 15. "We've only had one argument, over a danish," he joked. "When you do something for 50 years, that shows a love and dedication for the job. The guy's got heart."
Although there have been tough times, Healey said, he can recall only the good, and sometimes the funny.
Once he and another officer, Tom Grodecki, were assigned to serve as motorcycle escorts for Gov. Ella Grasso during her second term. It might have been a plum assignment if the ride from the State Armory to the Hilton hadn't been so brutally cold. It was below zero and the windchill factor was 15 below.
The next morning Grodecki says he telephoned Healey, seeking sympathy.
"Heals, I can't get up."
"Neither can I," he said Healey responded. "We became real good friends."
Grodecki, like many of Healey's peers, retired and went on to work for the state. But Healey stayed.
"It was as much his social life as anything. We try to romanticize community policing. It was a natural thing for a guy like Don."
Healy gave up his motorcycle years ago; his cruiser, No. 64, will soon have someone else behind the wheel.
There were many late-night shifts that turned into days for Healey, who exercised the power to stop traffic for dignitaries, presidents and ordinary citizens during 44 of the 50 years on the force that he spent in the traffic division. He was the public voice of Hartford-area traffic for many years, broadcasting over the radio from the top of the Traveler's Tower on highway conditions in Greater Hartford.
This morning at 8 a.m., Healey will report to his supervisor's tiny cubicle on Main Street for his final shift.
But he is likely to get there about 7:45 a.m., because coming to work 15 minutes early and leaving 15 minutes late has always been his practice, one of his supervisors, Sgt. Thomas Null, said.
"He loves the people. I like his old-school work ethic. He didn't care about the money. It was public service," Null said.
Earlier this month, Chief Roberts presented Healey with a gold ring, shaped like a police officer's badge.
He and Judith are planning a trip to Florida to visit their daughter Kelli and their grandchildren.
As Healey walked into the traffic division's offices on Wednesday, he was reminded that his days were numbered and that the people in this town would miss him.
"Hey, Heals. Did you get your ticket yet?" said a guy from public works.
"My ticket?" Healey said.
"Your ticket to Florida," the man pressed.
"Oh, yeah, it's all paid for," said Healey.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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