BELFAST, Maine — Fellow law enforcement officers fired enough verbal pot shots at Ken Fitzjurls during his retirement party Saturday night to keep him laughing for weeks.
Fitzjurls, the Belfast Police Department’s chaplain lieutenant, was honored at a combination retirement party and roast attended by more than 100 friends and fellow police officers at the Boathouse at Steamboat Landing on Saturday night. Fitzjurls retired after nearly 32 years on the beat.
“I thought it was great,” Fitzjurls said afterward. “It was a lot of old memories and a lot of old friends. I had a great time and it was a great sendoff.”
The lighthearted jokes and ribbing hurled at Fitzjurls during the party came from people who had worked beside him over the years as well as some of the younger officers who learned from him when they were just starting out.
When one of them, Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story, asked those who learned the ropes from Fitzjurls to stand, more than two dozen rose to their feet.
“Ken was our first picture of what a police officer was,” Story said. “Law enforcement in Waldo County, Belfast police and members of the Maine State Police owe a debt of gratitude to Ken Fitzjurls.”
Story said Fitzjurls advised him early on that “if you want to succeed in this career you have to treat people the way you want to be treated,” a recommendation that remains true today, he said.
Many of the stories centered on Fitzjurls’ below-average height and deep baritone voice. They dealt with radar details, domestic disputes, high-speed chases and bar brawls.
Probation Officer Eric Harvey, a former Belfast officer who is a few inches shorter than Fitzjurls, recalled one night when the pair rushed into a local saloon only to be greeted by shouts of, “Look, they sent the Smurf Squad.” The whole joint erupted in laughter, he said. “We never did make an arrest that night. Ever since, we were the Smurf Squad.”
Longtime friend Connie Bragdon recalled playing softball with Fitzjurls.
“He was a good player, but what fascinated me was how those short legs would move,” Bragdon said to howls of laughter.
Belfast Sgt. John Gibbs said Fitzjurls had a connection to the community that was remarkable. He said he was more friend than officer to many in the city. Gibbs recalled a recent incident where a young man was threatening to jump off the Veterans Memorial Bridge. In the midst of trying to calm the situation, the man’s cell phone rang.
“It was Ken,” Gibbs said. A family member had been alerted to the young man’s plight and immediately called Fitzjurls. The man did not jump.
“That was something he has done many, many times over,” Gibbs said. “Punching a clock was not what made Ken a police officer. A uniform or a gun was not what made Ken a police officer. He loved the job. … You may even think of him as an action figure in a way.”
Fitzjurls joined the department on Sept. 18, 1977, and officially retired on Dec. 15, 2008. It was not a voluntary retirement. A recent physical examination revealed serious blockage to the arteries of his heart, forcing a reluctant Fitzjurls to give up the job he loved. If he had his way, he said, he would still be working the streets.
“They informed me right then and there that ‘you will no longer be a police officer,’” he said.
Former Police Chief Bob Keating, who hired Fitzjurls, reminded the gathering that Fitzjurls could have retired on disability in the early 1990s when he underwent bypass surgery and was stricken by a brain aneurysm. But instead of stepping down, Fitzjurls returned to work despite being ordered by his doctors and insurers to wear a helmet whenever he was on duty, even when he was out marking tires for parking enforcement. He wore that bright blue helmet for five years.
“Ken hated that helmet. He said, ‘If you’re going to make me wear that damned helmet, put me on a motorcycle,’” Keating recalled. “None of the guys helped with the helmet situation and it was the brunt of many jokes. … As most of you probably understand, there is no sympathy at a police department.”
Fitzjurls had a work ethic that was “second to none,” Keating said. “If he called in sick, you knew he was sick. To work 31 years in the community and still be held in respect by the citizens shows that you’ve done something right.”
Another former chief, Allen Weaver, described Fitzjurls as a dedicated officer who gave his all to the job.
“Ken was one of the best officers who ever worked for me,” Weaver said. “Ken didn’t work for a paycheck, he worked because he loved the job and he loved police work.”
Current Chief Jeffrey Trafton thanked Fitzjurls for the many nights he walked the streets of Belfast, keeping them safe and their businesses secure. He commended the departmental chaplain for his compassion when telling families that a loved one would not be coming home again, working with people in crisis and protecting a child or battered woman.
“He has been dedicated to being a police officer in Belfast, and he’s done it very well,” Trafton said.
Fitzjurls was raised in Arkansas and despite his 40 years in Maine still speaks with a calm Southern drawl. He served during the Vietnam War with the Navy and it was while his ship was in dry-dock in Boston that he got his first taste of New England. It is also where he met his wife, Corrine, sharing a bus ride during a snowstorm. The couple has four adult sons and an extended family of daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
“We started talking, then started dating and then got married and moved up here,” he said. “I fell in love with it up here. It’s the greatest place in the world as far as I’m concerned.”
Fitzjurls said the jokes were all in good fun and representative of the way law enforcement officers deal with a job that comes with a lot of stress and danger. He said that while the antics might be off-putting to some, the public rarely gets to the see the job from the inside.
“You have to joke around,” he said. “There’s such a serious nature to this job that if you don’t take a lighthearted side to it you’re looking for trouble. The easiest and best way to deal with it physically and mentally is to joke about it.”