As longtime officer retires, a look back on 44 years with the Lenox Police Dept.
LENOX — When Timothy Sheehan joined the town's police force when he was 19, little did he know that he would remain in the department for 44 years, working with four police chiefs and promoted to senior officer, second-in-command, in 2005.
Sheehan, 63, who stepped down on Sunday a little more than a year ahead of the mandatory retirement age, is believed to be the longest-serving officer ever in the town, according to Police Chief Stephen E. O'Brien.
It's also probable no other current cop in the county has spent 44 years on the same force.
Sheehan, a Lenox Dale native, started in 1975 as an officer handling Tanglewood traffic, and went full-time two years later.
O'Brien, who was appointed chief in January 2005, acknowledged that he has relied heavily on Sheehan as his deputy.
"He was very helpful to me during these 14 years, taking a lot of work away and putting it on himself," O'Brien said. "He did it without complaining and took a lot of initiatives to get things done."
"He's very community-oriented and treated everybody fairly, sometimes a little tougher than others would have been, and other times not. He knew when it was appropriate to act stern and when not to act as stern," the chief pointed out. "He will be missed, for sure."
Going forward, O'Brien noted, "those are huge shoes to fill, and we're transitioning to a different type of rank structure." The plan is to appoint a sergeant from the current force.
On Sunday morning, Sheehan, who insisted on no retirement party, agreed to reminisce during a conversation at the police station.
His grandparents had emigrated from Ireland in the early 1920s, settling in Lenox Dale and running a meat market. Sheehan attended the town's elementary schools, moving on to the then-new high school in seventh grade, followed by two years at Berkshire Community College. He and Mary, his wife for nearly 36 years, raised two sons, Danny and Michael, and a daughter, Erin.
"It's really a great job, but like any job, it has drawbacks," Sheehan said.
Q: Were you one of the kids who wanted to be a policeman?
A: No, I had no interest, but I grew up at the Lenox Dale firehouse. I was always there, and I became the first junior member at the age of 16. But around here, it was not that easy to be a paid fireman. In 1975, when John Pignatelli was a selectman, he asked if I wanted to be a special cop after I got out of school. It was good money, weekends, at Tanglewood. In January 1976, I became a relief officer for Chief Billy Romeo, a great guy, and then in '77 he hired me full time. I kind of fell into it and once I got here, I really enjoyed it and have been here ever since.
Q: Do you recall any dramatic moments?
A: Most of the stuff you do here is positive. There's a few negative things; nobody's a hero here, we just do the job. Sure, there were dangerous situations, many times, but you forget about those. The worst part of this job is death notifications, especially in a small town; you know them and you remember everyone of those. I also remember a "miracle birth" in the late `70s — during a blizzard a woman delivered on her kitchen floor, couldn't get to the hospital in time. I never forgot that.
Q: What are the positive changes you've seen?
A: Former Chief [David] Berkel was big into training and it followed with Chief [Timothy] Face and Steve [O'Brien]. We were far better trained than when we first came on, when the only requirement was to attend the academy during the first year. Before that, you rode with the guys until they thought you were ready.
Q: How did you meet your wife, Mary, who retired from the state police in Lee in 2013 after 33 years as a trooper?
A: We met on the job. We were both on the midnight shift and we used to meet up and talk on the Pittsfield Road, where she was running radar or whatever and I was checking buildings. Next thing you know, we were engaged and getting married. It was an advantage to be married to an officer; they understand the pros and cons of the job, because sometimes it's tough on the family. The divorce rate is huge, so we'll see now after I retire, knock on wood! (Laughing).
Q: How did you realize it was time to retire?
A: Some day you wake up and you just say it's not for me anymore. I took a week off in May like every year, and it's the first time in 44 years I didn't look forward to coming back to work. I used to champ at the bit to come back. I wanted to go out on my own terms; I'm ready. It's been a big part of my life, I never liked long vacations. I'm like a bigamist — I'm married to my wife and this place.
Q: What were some of the less positive aspects of the job?
A: Back in the 1980s, after Vietnam, people hated the cops, they hated authority, but we survived it. Then 9/11 happened, and everybody loved us, and now it's gone back again and not too many people care for the police. It goes in cycles, but they always call you when they need you. People think this is an easy job, but it isn't, especially in a small town. But we make it; there's a good bunch of people here.
Q: As Lenox evolved from a "GE suburb" to primarily a tourist town, how did it affect you?
A: The tourists don't really bother me; it's only 8 to 10 weeks a year and I know how much money they bring into town. It sustains the town — how can you be against that? You treat people the way you want to be treated. And the local people are great. They always stand by you. I work for the public; I'm a public servant. If you do your job and a little bit extra, nobody bothers you. I'm going to miss seeing the people every day. But it's just time to go. It's going to be a huge adjustment, but I'm going to take it as it comes. I don't travel well, but we want to visit Ireland for the first time, so we'll do that.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or 413-637-2551.
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