On a few occasions, I have been asked to give a brief eulogy at a funeral. It was never easy, but I always had time to prepare. Twice, I conducted the actual funeral service, first for a dear friend’s wife, and later for him. Recently, I dropped the ball in a similar situation, and I deeply regret it.
Richard Zerkel was already an officer when I joined the LPD. He passed away recently, and I attended his funeral. After making his opening remarks, the preacher conducting the service asked if anyone had anything they wanted to say.
For some reason I can’t fathom, I did not respond. The request took me by surprise, and I assumed that one of the other active or retired LPD brass in attendance would have something to say. They did not, and the opportunity passed quickly, before I had time to collect my thoughts and react.
Once I had time to think about it, it dawned on me that while other ranking officers were there, I was the only one who had actually ever been Dick’s boss. That alone made me the one who should have gotten up and said something, but it was too late.
I should have said that Dick was one of several officers with whom I rode in a cruiser during my first few months on the department. My job was to watch, learn, and do as I was told. I did all of those things, but mostly I learned. I continued to learn from him for many years, up until he retired, after I had become an Inspector, and he was one of my Lieutenants, commanding the day shift.
I should have said that he was one of the hardest working officers I ever knew. Unlike today, radio calls years ago were sometimes infrequent, but there were a lot of things that could keep you busy, if you wanted to do them. One of those things was working traffic, and Dick excelled at that. He did a lot of traffic patrol, and wrote far more than his share of tickets; he was never one to goof off.
I should have said that I have always appreciated how he calmly kept a younger, hotheaded, and sometimes overzealous rookie from doing things that hadn’t been sufficiently thought out.
Even if he was angry, he could stay cool and in command of a situation.
I should have said that he was an excellent supervisor, firm but fair with his subordinates, respected by them, and managing to not alienate them, even when disciplinary measures had to be taken.
I should have said that even when I was his boss, I still learned from him. He never hesitated to question something that he thought was wrong. If I was wrong, he told me so. Despite the unorthodoxy of that in a semi-military organization, I still appreciated it because I respected him.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.