Everyone has a 'Walter Fahey story'
October 30, 2008

By Liam Day

The following article about former Boston Police officer Walter Fahey was published in the Reporter in 1997. Walter passed away last week at age 76.

In 1957, the year Walter Fahey became a cop, the Soviets launched Sputnik, Ted Williams hit a robust .388 and the tallest building in Boston, the John Hancock tower, was a mere 26 stories high.

Now, in 1997, the Soviet Union is no more, the Red Sox don't know who their starting left-fielder will be this season, and the new glass and steel Hancock tower rises over 60 stories. Oh yeah, and Walter Fahey is retiring. After 40 years on the job.

Much changed during Walter Fahey's 40 years on the job, but Walter Fahey did not. He was as enthusiastic his last day on the job, as he was on his first. Captain Robert Dunford of Area C-11 marvels at Fahey's unbridled enthusiasm, even after all those years.

"The question is not how did Walter last on the job all those years, but how did he keep his enthusiasm all those years," says Dunford. "I think it is because of his faith in people."

Yes, Walter Fahey is a people person. But his longevity and enthusiasm for the job are due to more than an unshakable belief in humanity. They are due, in part to the pride he took in wearing the uniform.

In 1957, when he took an oath to serve and protect the citizenry of Boston, Walter Fahey received a meager $73 and change per week.

"There was no waiting list when I joined the force," explains Fahey. "The pay wasn't very good and there weren't any benefits."

That didn't matter to Walter Fahey. He wanted to be a cop. Growing up in Roxbury, there was a police officer, Bill McCarthy, who walked the beat in young Walter's neighborhood. Officer McCarthy knew everybody in his beat, both parents and kids, and he kept Walter and his friends on the straight and narrow. If Walter did something wrong, Officer McCarthy would find out.

"He was a role model for me," Fahey said.

That was the type of cop Walter Fahey wanted to be. But as society became more mobile, the Boston Police started doing away with walking beats. That was 1963. Now the police are returning to the walking beat, although the term used today is community policing. Walter Fahey is happy about the change.

"Before, we (the police) were reactive. Now, we are trying to solve problems before they happen. That's what community policing is, a partnership between the police and the community for solving problems before the happen."

That first year, 1957, Officer Fahey was assigned to the traffic division downtown. Shortly after he joined the force, for three years, in fact, but three years is a short span of time in the career of Walter Fahey, he found himself assigned to the motorcade of Democratic Presidential Nominee John F. Kennedy, as he made his way to the Boston Garden for a rally the night before the 1960 election. Officer Fahey did not receive overtime for the detail. At that time cops didn't receive overtime, or court time, and if assigned to a detail they stayed right to the end, receiving the same weekly rate as they always did.

Soon-to-be President Kennedy's Buick convertible fought through a wall of people on Causeway Street and Officer Fahey was pinned to the back of the car by the overwhelming crowd.

"The old Garden used to seat 13,000 people. I bet there were 26,000 people there that night."

The Buick convertible turned into an alley off Causeway Street and as President Kennedy got out of the car and headed into one of the Garden's side entrances he thanked Officer Fahey.

"That was one of the most exciting nights of my life."

That was not the only time Officer Fahey was assigned to a Kennedy. In a much more publicized incident, because it was captured in a nationally syndicated photograph, Officer Fahey protected Edward Kennedy, the former President's younger brother, at an anti-bussing rally in City Hall Plaza in 1974. The crowd, hostile to Kennedy's pro-busing stance, had started throwing eggs and rotten fruit at the Senator. Fahey was escorting him into the federal office building on the North side of the plaza when the photograph was snapped.

During 40 years on the job, Walter Fahey gathered many memories, some funny and some painful, frozen in time like that famous photograph taken in 1974, and it is that balance, between the good and the bad, that has also helped Walter Fahey keep his enthusiasm on the job.

"You have to match every negative with a positive thing. Otherwise, you'll just go crazy," says Fahey.

And there have been a lot of positives. Take Thunder, for instance.

Before I begin the Thunder story, I should tell you that Thunder is a Rottweiler. Yes, but a friendly Rottweiler. Thunder belongs to the Flaherty's on Plain Street and one morning Thunder followed Mary Flaherty's brother to the bus stop. Where he waited to catch an early bus. As he was about to board, Mary's brother realized that Thunder had followed him and ordered Thunder to stay. And that is what Thunder did. He stayed, waiting at the bus stop, scaring passers-by-merely with his presence.

Mary Flaherty, distressed by Thunder's absence, called the police and received a visit from Officer Fahey. Together they went looking for Thunder. They didn't have to look very far. Receiving a report of a vicious-looking dog waiting at the bus stop by the Little Peach on Neponset Avenue, Mary Flaherty and Officer Fahey knew that is could only be Thunder. The welcome was warm and wet.

For all of the criminals that he has arrested, it is stories such as Thunder's that made Walter Fahey a great cop. For reuniting a dog with his family can bring a smile to the face of one who has seen too much cruelty, too much inhumanity, too much despair. You have to match every negative with a positive thing.

That is exactly what Walter Fahey did. And Thunder's is not the only story.

"Everyone who ever worked with him has a Walter Fahey story," explains Captain Dunford. "In that way he is going to live on around here for a long, long time."

And that is also part of the answer to Captain Dunford's original question. That is what has enabled Walter Fahey to stay on the job as long as he has. That is what has allowed him to keep his enthusiasm for the job all these years.

Indeed much changes during Walter Fahey's 40 years on the job. The Cold War ended and the downtown grew. The Red Sox are still looking for that elusive World Series championship, as well as a starting left-fielder.

But Walter Fahey did not change. Hopefully, he never will. And now that he is retired, maybe the Red Sox could use him in left field.

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