His career ended awash in controversy and charges of corruption, but Bob Walden, Greenport’s last village police chief, who died Saturday at age 77, was remembered by those who worked with him as a concerned and caring man deeply committed to his community.
“He was just a good guy,” said Bob White, former owner of Washington White’s hardware store on Main Street, who served briefly on the Village Board in the 1990s. “He helped many people over the years but never got any recognition for it because he didn’t want it. He was a very kind person.”
A longtime member of the Greenport Fire Department, Mr. Walden died just weeks after he was overcome by smoke and pulled from his burning bedroom by a part-time Southold police officer. The Sept. 2 blaze began when a lamp fell on a mattress, and although the fabric was flame retardant, it smouldered and filled the second-floor room with dense, black smoke.
Four town police officers entered Mr. Walden’s Greenport home, but three were overcome with smoke when they reached the top of the stairs, said Police Chief Martin Flatley. But Jacob Bogden, a seasonal officer in his second year, reached the bedroom and pulled the former chief to the stairs and the other officers, who carried him outside. Mr. Walden was taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Chief Flatley began his career as a part-time Greenport Village policeman in 1980. The Waldens “were family friends,” the chief said. “I always had a large amount of respect for Chief Walden.”
So did Gary Blasko, a village policeman who moved over to the Southampton Town department after the Greenport department folded.
“He was a dear friend of mine as a person and boss,” Mr. Blasko said. “He was a dedicated chief and always had the best interests of the citizens and visitors at heart. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
Chief Walden began his time in law enforcement as a Southold police radio dispatcher before joining the village department as a patrolman.
“He started right at the bottom and went right to the top,” said Mr. White.
But 20 years ago, the nine-member village police department became the subject of ridicule, tabloid headlines and a Suffolk district attorney’s investigation. One officer reportedly tipped off drug dealers of pending raids and a married officer was accused of sexual misconduct.
The village suspended Mr. Walden, who was accused of official wrongdoing, in May 1994. But the case was dropped after village residents voted 617 to 339 in a referendum that November to abolish the department, which had been in existence since 1947.
Then-mayor David Kapell called for eliminating the force, which put the village under the town police department’s jurisdiction, as a cost-cutting measure. The village then abolished its justice court.
Mayor David Nyce, who took office in 2007, long after the village department’s demise, recalls Mr. Walden’s strong interest in village history.
“He walked the village every day and pick up trash and put it in a can,” the mayor said. “He had a wealth of knowledge and was just a great guy.”
Visiting hours will continue today (Thursday) at Horton-Mathie Funeral Home in Greenport from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Agnes R.C. Church on Front Street in Greenport at 11 a.m. Friday, with burial following at St. Agnes Cemetery.