The congratulatory tribute to Col. Stephen McCartney drew more than 350 people to the Crowne Plaza Thursday evening, and a foundation set up in his name to further his work helping probationers and parolees, as well as people with substance abuse and mental health problems, surpassed its goal of $25,000 thanks to the contributions of many.
“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved in return,” said master of ceremonies Gene Valicenti, quoting “The Wizard of Oz” and referencing the large gathering, where most had to stand during the presentation.
Christine Imbriglio, who worked for over 13 years with McCartney to start and maintain a comprehensive probation/parolee program that strives to provide those who have committed crimes a nonjudgmental helping hand towards a better future spoke fondly of the chief’s work.
“His philosophy and vision have been embedded in the police department, and as a result we work together to be responsive to victims and community concerns,” Imbriglio said.
“We have always been able to count on his commitment to making our community safer by working together to eliminate barriers and building collaborative partnerships among probation and over 20 partner agencies to provide resources and support to our population and to succeed all while still holding offenders accountable…Together we have been able to do the work that many doubted, and collaboration is now a way of life.”
Imbriglio rejoiced that the foundation would continue this mission even after McCartney’s departure. According to McCartney’s eldest daughter, Kerry McCartney-Prout, the program epitomizes who Col. McCartney is as a person and who he has always been as a dedicated family man.
“I think one of the greatest gifts that they [McCartney and his wife, Pauline] taught my sister and I as our parents, and now that they’re teaching their grandchildren, was to not only be hardworking and productive for yourself, but for others, and to be kind and generous with your talents, your love, and time for others,” she said. “We learned at a pretty young age that we had a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to others and to our community at large. That’s what’s so exciting about this foundation – it’s continuing those lessons.”
McCartney-Prout made sure to recognized her mother as the “real police chief” of the family, and praised her for her steadfast dedication to the family and strength to be able to hold down a family and a job while McCartney handled his responsibilities to the cities he served.
“It’s a tall task to work, raise two daughters, be a grandmother, be a second mom to her nieces and nephews and just be the rock of a family while your husband is out bearing the burden of 24/7 service,” she said. “My mother always did it her way with grace and dignity and class.”
She gave a glimpse into life growing up with McCartney. She said while he was never a strict disciplinarian, as some might have expected from a Marine Corps veteran and police chief, he was strict in different ways. She described her and her sister, Kara, asking him for money to get candy and sodas from Cumberland Farms as kids. After giving a patented eyebrow raise, McCartney would question them on the necessity of their candy buying – how would that affect their long-term finances, and so on.
“It was basically the Steve McCartney budgetary appropriations process,” she said, garnering laughter from the crowded ballroom. “Now, as a police officer you have to ask all these questions – budgets are a big thing. But when you’re seven and 10 years old, we were not ever really prepared, so our requests were always held up, if not denied.”
But the tenacious children had a contingency strategy as well.
“So, then we went back to Chief Paula, and she got the money, because Paula was never subject to the Steve McCartney budgetary process,” she said.
While it may seem funny, McCartney-Prout recognized from the podium the wisdom in his parenting technique.
“As an adult, I kind of laugh now at my dad’s parenting tactics, but I realize now he was trying to instill in me and my sister the value of thoughtful and deliberate way of making decisions,” she said. “I’m hoping that as an adult and as a mom, I’m doing the same for my children and setting an example that it’s not just about ourselves, it’s about others.”
Emphasizing that the event was “more about the cause than the man,” McCartney took time to reminisce on early experiences as a police officer in Providence and his early days in Warwick.
He pointed to a key moment in his early years as an officer, where he witnessed Russell Boyle – who was the proprietor of Boyle Funeral Home in Providence, known as “the Godfather of Smith Hill” – console a woman who just lost her husband but couldn’t afford to pay for a funeral service. Boyle told her he would take care of the costs and give her husband the best funeral in the world, McCartney said.
“I just said ‘Wow. What a thing to do.’ Godfather doesn’t even sum it up the way that that man treated people. That was just something that always stuck in my mind. Always,” he said. “That’s service. That is service.”
He spoke about being part of a crime unit that worked in the heyday of a crack cocaine epidemic that swept the U.S., and had just come to Providence around 1984. He said the unit made upwards of 13,000 arrests throughout its three years of operations. Though the figure drew applause from the audience, McCartney was quick to point out that merely making arrests does not necessarily amount to positive societal change.
“You can’t arrest yourself out of situations sometimes,” he said. “You can make a million arrests, but what happens is you get into a revolving cycle that Christine [Imbriglio] is alluding to. You can put them away for a little while, but then they’re going to come right back and be right back into that lifestyle because they don’t have the means and the ability to make that change.”
This philosophy carried over to Warwick, where McCartney would eventually help spearhead the parolee/probation program with Imbriglio and put an emphasis on helping people with mental health problems.
“Maybe life has dealt you a bad hand, I don’t know. I’m not here about your background. I’m here to say that you’ve got an opportunity here to right the ship – a great opportunity…We want to see you succeed,” he said of the parolee/probation program. “And you want to know the interesting thing about it? The response that I got was ‘Chief, thank you very much.’”
Mayor Solomon said in his remarks that he looked forward to working with the “legacy you’ve left in our department,” which he said is “second to none.” Also looking ahead, McCartney emphasized he believed the department was in good hands with Col. Rick Rathbun taking over as chief, and that he hoped the foundation would be of assistance to continuing the department’s work.
“Everything’s got to come to an end,” he said. “I’d like to see this foundation continue the work that Col. Rathbun and these good members of the Warwick Police Department have been out there working on. If we can assist you Colonel, I want this foundation to continue that work.”
In the end, it was Father Robert Marciano – who for years has been the chaplain of the Warwick Police Department – who summed up the evening best, after reading a proclamation bestowed upon Col. McCartney by Pope Francis.
“I spent my life teaching the gospel,” Marciano said. “This man spent his life living the gospel.”