When the Hartford Police Department was headquartered in an old school on Morgan Street 50 years ago, kids always flocked around Officer Jack Bordieri, his friend, retired Officer Donald Healey, recalled recently.
There was Bordieri, playing basketball with the kids in the fourth-floor gym, in his office arranging for a field trip or loading children into buses for a ballgame at Yankee Stadium or an outing to Camp Courant.
"He did so much for the kids in Hartford," said Healey, who retired in 2007 after 50 years and one month with the force. "I'm sure he got no overtime. I'm sure he spent 40, 50 hours a week with the kids."
Bordieri, a Hartford native, died on June 23 at age 76 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He had joined the Hartford police force in 1954, soon after his dreams of another career were dashed.
From 1950 to '54, Bordieri played baseball with the Washington Senators' farm team in Florida, according to his obituary. The right-handed pitcher had long sought a spot with a major league team, but a dislocated shoulder he suffered while playing high school football doomed his prospects, and he had to move on to something else.
Bordieri found that other pursuit as director of the Hartford Police Athletic League. The job enabled him to share his enthusiasm for sports with children from throughout the city. In an article published in Law and Order magazine in 1969, Bordieri wrote that PAL's goal was to prevent juvenile delinquency and promote fun and education.
"PAL strives for the end of racism as boys and girls, brown, black and white, play together," he wrote. "These will be the good men and women of tomorrow."
"He loved the kids. He loved baseball," Healey said. "I would say he kept a lot of kids from getting into trouble."
Bordieri served with the police force for 23 years, retiring in 1977. He also lectured about law enforcement careers to students at his alma mater, Bulkeley High School. The father of three finished his working life as athletic director for more than 25 years at Briarwood College in Southington.
The number of people Bordieri touched was evident at his wake, said June Bordieri, his wife of 53 years.
"I didn't shed a tear because it was a celebration of his life — all these kids he taught how to play ball," said June Bordieri, of Wethersfield.
The wake in Wethersfield on June 26 drew a crowd, despite the tornado that ripped through town that day, longtime family friend Claire O'Toole Cashman wrote in an e-mail.
"A fitting tribute to a man who spent his life in the service of others, never allowed disappointments and roadblocks to discourage him, never allowed his experiences with the dark side of human nature to dampen his optimism and zest for life," Cashman wrote.
"Despite his imposing physique and good looks, he was a very modest man and retained an almost childlike faith in looking at life's glass as half full rather than half empty, in finding some redeeming quality in the worst of people, and never prejudging others," she wrote. "All the corny, old fashioned ways of parsing out a person's character are embodied in Jack and the way he lived his life — a gentleman, a friend, a mentor, a cheerleader, a model husband, father and grandfather. He was the 'real deal.'"
Another longtime friend, Patricia Gondek of Rocky Hill, described Bordieri as a gentleman with impeccable manners and a loving grandfather who had nicknames for each of his seven grandchildren.
Bordieri seemed to know everyone, and he had many friends, Gondek said.
"That humbled me, to think that he liked me," she said. "He never shunned people. Remembering him is going to help us be better people."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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