Monday July 30, 2012

SHEFFIELD -- Good thing the bad guys didn't know about Jim McGarry's retirement bash.

Virtually every police chief in South Berkshire County, as well as a hefty contingent of rank and file members from local departments, were in attendance at the Sheffield Town Park for the McGarry soiree. In addition, a host of present and former Sheffield town officials, state luminaries, emergency personnel and just plain folks stopped by to pay their respects.

In all, more than 600 people were there for at least part of the two-hour event.

McGarry, 67, is retiring after 45 years in the department, including the last 41 as chief. Town officials believe he was the longest-serving chief in the state at the time of his retirement.

"He was as good as they come," declared Selectman David A. Smith Jr.

McGarry has several projects to keep him busy, and will still be the town's emergency management coordinator.

A 1964 graduate of Mount Everett Regional High School, McGarry worked at Gilligan Brothers Contra ctors in town right out of high school. He became a special police officer in 1968. In 1971, he became the town's first full-time police chief. And, for many years, its only full-time officer.

McGarry is a large, solid man at 6-4 and 200-plus pounds. He was once described by former Eagle reporter Stephen Fay as "built like a Stonehenge monument."

But his mantra, which he delineated in a 1974 interview in The Eagle, was to treat people -- all people -- fairly.

"In a small town, you see a lot of the people over and over again. I've found that if you're halfway decent to people the first time around, it's easier the second time around," he said.

"What comes to mind when I think of Chief McGarry is that I always felt safe when I saw him on the job," said former Select woman Janet Stan ton. "He was always in control of every emergency, always very calm. And very understanding, also."

McGarry spent a considerable amount of time greeting a long line of well-wishers and professional colleagues on Sunday.

"Every person I've met is a story," said McGarry as he shook hand after hand, "and 99 percent of the stories are good ones."

Which, of course, brought a story to mind. Every police chief and officer who has worked for a period of time in the job has their share of "war stories." But, true to his Irish nature, McGarry has long been known for his loquacity and the quality of his tales.

"It was the darndest thing," he began. "I was at the gas station the other day, and some guy came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we made it!'

"But I didn't know what he meant. And he laughed and said, ‘You and me. We made it!'

"Then I remembered. This was a guy I had arrested four or five times over the years," said McGarry with a laugh. "And he was saying that we both made it to retirement. That was something."

"The first time I met him, he was working at Gilligans," recalled longtime former Berkshire School baseball coach Tom Young. "We were talking, and he got a call, and he hopped into his car and threw one of those Kojak police lights on top and took off."

Young was referring to the portable flashing lights police officers used to possess to attach to their cars to identify themselves as police officers.

But, added Young, he and many other South County coaches remembered Mc Garry for his community involvement as an official for various local sports.

"He was an umpire down here for many years when I coached at Berkshire School," said Young. "And a good one."