WATERTOWN — As a new year closed in, one era ended and a new one began in the history of the Watertown Police Department. The skies may have been cloudy and the temperature may have been on the chilly side, but the memories and messages of thanks were warm as family, friends, colleagues and state and local officials bade a fond farewell to retiring Police Chief John Gavallas in front of Watertown Police Department headquarters on December 30.
Chief Gavallas, calling it a day after 51 years in law enforcement, a career which began less than one month after the first moon landing in 1969, was the focus of an emotional salute which at times seemed to overwhelm him.
The festivities began with a multi-town motorcade which began at Watertown High School, with police cruisers from many neighboring towns including Middlebury and Seymour, as well as the Watertown Fire Department and Department of Public Works flashing their lights, honking horns and blaring sirens as they slowly made their way past Chief Gavallas, who saluted and shared a word of thanks with each of them as they wound past police headquarters on French Street on their way to Town Hall, and then returning to WPD.
As his family gathered near, but not too near on this socially-distanced occasion, Chief Gavallas steeled himself for the inevitable wave of emotion he would feel as a series of speakers recognized him for serving with distinction as a patrolman, detective, detective sergeant, chief inspector, deputy chief and finally, in June of 2007 assuming the chief of police position.
Hosting the ceremony was Watertown Police Department’s Lt. Tim Gavallas, the chief’s son.
Leading the list of speakers was Town Manager Mark Raimo, who served under Chief Gavallas during a 25-year law enforcement career until his retirement.
“I wish you continued health and longevity in your new chapter and again, thank you for your service to a grateful town,” said Mr. Raimo, taking a pause to collect himself on a personally-emotional occasion.
Speaking on behalf of the Town Council was Mary Ann Rosa, who spoke admiringly of Chief Gavallas and his ability to remain above partisanship.
“He’s been able to work all of these years and he never played politics,” said Ms. Rosa, the chair of the town council. “Thank you for the respect you’ve given all of us.”
As the Watertown Police Honor Guard looked on, Chief Gavallas, whose face has become known around the state over the years in part to his appearances in the annual holiday public service commercials done by the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, was the subject of lavish praise from Police Commission Chairman Rich Antonetti.
“Some people will say how can you serve for 51 years the same job day in and day out? Anyone who can do that for 51 years does it because it’s a job you love...you protect us police are that line of defense....we are proud to have had you as chief, and we will always remember you as chief,” said Mr. Antonetti to hearty applause.
Representing the state was local state Rep. Joseph Polletta, R-68.
“Since I started my political career in 2011, Chief Gavallas has always been a supporter of mine, giving me guidance - whether I liked it or not - and that’s the type of person you ask for in a chief and a public servant.
“I don’t know that I thought this day would come, but I was wrong,” said Polletta.
Next up to the speakers’ podium, which let you know this was a big deal, as it was festooned with microphone flags from every state television station, was Acting Chief Josh Bernegger, who went through the long list of Chief Gavallas’ career accomplishments, but could not resist a light-hearted joke.
When mentioning that Chief Gavallas began his WPD career in 1969, Bernegger quipped, “I just wanted to mention that I was not yet born in 1969,” drawing a laugh from him and those in attendance before issuing the ultimate compliment.
“The Watertown Police Department will benefit for years to come from the exemplary leadership you have provided,” Mr. Bernegger concluded, before presenting Chief Gavallas with his retirement badge.
Finally, it was time for the star of the show to address his audience, and the ever-modest Chief Gavallas was brief and to the point.
“The total support of everyone in the community has been essential.” Gavallas said.” That’s how I completed 51 years of service to the community, which no one can do without that support.
“I will remember today’s events forever.”
Following is the official statement from the Watertown Police Department on the retirement of Chief Gavallas.
Watertown Police Chief John C. Gavallas is retiring after fifty one years of dedicated service to the Town of Watertown.
Chief Gavallas was appointed patrolman August 11, 1969 and was promoted to the rank of detective in January 1976, then to detective sergeant in February 1983.
Chief Gavallas was promoted to chief inspector in February of 1985 and deputy chief of police in June of 1995. Chief Gavallas has served as the chief of police since June of 2007.
Chief Gavallas spent a large part of his career commanding the Detective Bureau and has investigated or supervised the majority of the major crimes in Watertown for decades.
During his career, Chief Gavallas served as a youth officer and as a hostage negotiator; among a long list of commendations and distinctions, Chief Gavallas has been awarded Watertown Police Distinguished Service Awards, Meritorious Service Awards, Professional Development Awards and Special Unit Awards.
Chief Gavallas served the Connecticut Law Enforcement community by serving on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, was a former president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, was the Treasurer of the Western Police Chiefs Association and was the Chairman of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Traffic Safety Committee.
Chief Gavallas is presently serving on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation.
Chief Gavallas is a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy.