Final salute: Hundreds attend funeral of former Bangor police chief Don Winslow

Posted July 17, 2014, at 7:21 p.m.
Last modified July 17, 2014, at 7:48 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Thirty city police officers wearing dress blue uniforms and white gloves stood silently at the entrance of St. John’s Catholic Church on Thursday as several hundred people filed past them to attend the funeral Mass of former Bangor police chief Don Winslow.

Winslow, the 27th chief of the Bangor Police Department, died July 10 at his Hermon home after his second battle with cancer. He was 57.

At 2 p.m., the Bangor police officers processed into the historic brick church and took their seats in the front pews just before of the arrival of Winslow’s family.

Police Chief Mark Hathaway pressed his lips together as he carried the wooden urn containing the ashes of his former boss and friend up the center aisle to a stand before the altar area, leading a group of six pallbearers into the house of worship.

Winslow’s widow, Dora, his two daughters and other family members followed and were seated.

The Rev. Frank Murray, a Bangor native who said he got to know Winslow about 15 years ago, celebrated the Mass. He told those in the nearly full church that Winslow’s courage to tell people that his lung cancer was terminal gave those who cared about him the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to them.

“I suspect there are a few here, quite a few here” who made time to see Winslow after he announced his cancer was back, the priest said.

“He told me, ‘I was blessed,’” Murray said to family, friends, former co-workers, others in law enforcement from all over the state and people whose lives Winslow touched. Bangor City Council members and other local dignitaries also were in attendance.

“Who knows all of Don Winslow’s friends? Only the Lord,” the priest said during the solemn service.

“You let him die happy and fulfilled,” Murray said. “May he rest in peace.”

Former Bangor police chief Ron Gastia, who along with Winslow and Bruce Buchanan were a trio of friends who began their public safety careers with the Old Town Fire Department in the late 1970s before joining the Bangor Police Department, read from Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament.

Winslow started his public safety career as a junior firefighter for the Old Town Fire Department while attending Old Town High School and became a full-time firefighter on his 19th birthday.

He joined the Bangor Police Department in 1979 and worked his way up through the ranks to become chief in 1998, a position he held for eight years until he retired at the end of February 2007. He was Bangor’s first community relations police officer, he taught Drug Awareness Resistance Education classes, he helped organize Neighborhood Watch programs, and he worked on numerous boards and civic organizations, most that benefited less fortunate youth.

Winslow fought his first round with cancer shortly after retiring and was feeling good enough earlier this year that he decided to go back to work. He announced plans in February to run for the Penobscot County sheriff’s seat, but withdrew from the race a few weeks later after learning his cancer was back, this time in his lungs.

One of his last public appearances happened on June 17 when he was taken for a quiet stroll along the Bangor Waterfront by his wife and was surprised by a flash mob of more than 100 people who emerged from hiding places and danced to the couple’s delight.

Winslow is survived by his wife of 36 years, Dora; two daughters, Melissa Garcia and her husband Jason, and Meredith Brookings and her husband Bret; two sisters, Barbara Caron and Carol Winslow; a brother Richard, and his mother, Wanda Winslow, of Orono, according to his obituary.

He was predeceased by his father Donald S. Winslow and oldest brother Rodney.

His widow was the last person to speak at the funeral Mass and her words brought tears to the eyes of many in the church.

“So much of me is made from what I learned from you,” Dora Winslow said. “I do believe I have been changed for the better because I knew you. You are gone from our sight, but not from our hearts.”

Bangor police cars and firetrucks from Bangor and Old Town led the funeral procession that stretched for approximately a mile to escort Winslow’s urn from the church to Mt. Pleasant Catholic Cemetery on Ohio Street.

Officers from the Brewer Police Department, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, and Maine State Police halted traffic to let the procession pass as it carried Don Winslow to his final resting place.