Know Your Hero
Heroes and heroism is important in police psychology. Let me tell you about one of my heroes. Over 30 years ago, Suzie Sawyer served as National Secretary for the Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary and she proposed holding an annual National Memorial Service for police officers killed in the line of duty. The first service had only 125 attendees. To increase attendance, the National FOP planned a Board Meeting in Washington, DC, in 1983, and an evening get-together was planned on the eve of Peace Officers’ Memorial Day. There were others, though, who found out about the party. They were the people who came to Washington, DC, to hear their husband’s name read aloud at the Memorial Service…..the police widows.
So they are at this big police party and some of these widows began to cry. The party mood was changing. Suzie decided to take them elsewhere to preserve the festivity. Little did she know she was doing something else as well.
Suzie loaded ten women in a couple of cars and they went to the DC FOP Lodge to talk. Each widow told the story of their husband’s deaths, how the funeral was planned by the agency without their input, how difficult it was to go on with their lives, and how they had even had voices in their heads, and thoughts of suicide. When they finished their discussion hours later, the ten women felt better and asked Suzie if they could continue having meetings. Suzie was a little unsure of that request because, in those days, nobody in law enforcement ever talked about police death. They buried their officers with pomp and circumstance, but once it was over, the families had to fend for themselves, trying to explain what happened to them and deal with the grief on their own.
Over the next several months, Suzie kept in touch with the widows who now wanted a national support group. On May 14, 1984, Suzie started C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) to serve the surviving families of officers killed in the line of duty. On May 14 ,1984, Suzie started a heroic journey.
“Get your butt up that tower,” barks Suzie Sawyer to the young widow at the C.O.P.S. Spouses’ Retreat.
“But I am afraid, Suzie.”
“What are you afraid of…making it to the top? Put one foot above the other and get up that tower, now!” A crowd of widows and staff cheer her on as the woman climbs.
The woman stops halfway up and shivers. “You’re halfway there. Think of how much you have accomplished already. Keep going.” The cheers rise; the woman continues to climb. “See, there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.”
The tower is 50-feet tall and, yes, succeeding and getting to the top helps people realize how strong they are and that they can get through the grieving process. Part drill sergeant, part psychologist, Suzie is always a sympathetic soul, determined, focused. She is the ultimate positive person when you meet her, also. Her personality is strong and infectious. If she tells you that you can do something – you can and will do it. She helps you put in the effort and increase your self-esteem.
She got the grant money to make her organization bigger and financially sound. You can’t turn Suzie down. They own the building they reside in. She has 13 employees budgeted, and, yet, it all started in the Sawyer basement. She remembers people she only met once. And people remember her. I met her 20 plus years ago and I remembered her, even her name. I had not seen her since, but her name came to mind when I started writing a blog. She is a remarkable person.
With Suzie’s guidance, they run programs for the spouses of police officers killed in the line of duty. They run programs for the kids of officers killed in the line of duty, and an Outward Bound Experience for teens and young adults. They have programs for fellow officers, for parents, siblings, significant others, and adult children of the officers. They give scholarships to surviving children and spouses wanting to study beyond high school; and they run a trauma education program for police officers across the country. If there is a need, C.O.P.S. will meet it. In all, they service over 30,000 families of officers killed in the line of duty. And they do it with the same compassion as in the first forced meeting in the FOP Lodge in Washington, D.C.
And I am telling you, if you met Suzie you would not be surprised by any of this. Her personality is that positive and that strong. She is a true hero. And so is her husband Buzz who puts up with Suzie having a passion, almost like another child, that takes a lot of Suzie’s time — the C.O.P.S. organization.
The Unsung Heroes in Your Life
You need to relish the heroes in your life. You should seek out someone that has been a hero to you, and tell them. If they are not alive, tell their son or daughter. It changes you for the better when you do. It will make you feel good, and it honors the memory. People don’t do this enough. I don’t know why. Let me start with this article.
Thank you, Suzie, for making so many women climb that tower!
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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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