(This article was first published in the May 16, 2007 edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader. – LJC)
FRANCONIA – From emergency calls to calls of the wild, Franconia police Cpl. Bruce McKay embraced and cherished his career in public service in a small mountain town.
“It meant a great deal to him to be able to help people in any way he could,” said Franconia police Chief Mark Montminy.
Later today, waves of law enforcement and public safety officers from across New England and around the country will come to Franconia to honor McKay, who was killed in the line of duty Friday. Calling hours are this afternoon and evening; a funeral service begins at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
McKay, 48, had a few detours on his way to becoming a police officer. He grew up on Long Island and found his way to New Hampshire as a graduate of New England College in Henniker and later working at Littleton Stamp and Coin. After a few years in the corporate world, with stops in financial planning and as a buyer for retail giants JC Penney and LL Bean, he answered his true calling.
“Bruce and I have been friends since high school,” said Special Forces Lt. Col. Adrian Bogart. “We grew up together and we both realized that public service was our calling.”
The longtime friends were moved by the Sept. 11 attacks six years ago, Bogart said.
“Bruce and I were both were hurt by the attack on New York – Al Qaeda attacked our home,” he said. “I wound up in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and back to Iraq, a total of 36 months in combat and Bruce served in New Hampshire. We used to have conversations about his service keeping America safe at home, and my work defended America overseas.”
McKay’s first job as a police officer was a part-time position in Haverhill. Twelve years ago, he joined the small Franconia department, which has three full-time officers. Montminy said McKay was a good fit in the small town, in more ways than one.
“He gave the impression that he wanted to the job, that this was his love,” Montminy said. “We knew he would give it 150 percent.”
And, Montminy said with a laugh, he, along with fellow officer Sgt. Mark Taylor, were of the same age.
“We’ve been getting gray together all along,” he said.
Police work in the North Country has its own uniqueness. There are the typical emergency calls that any city or town has, and then there are ones indigenous to the White Mountains.
He answered his share of moose-vehicle accidents on Interstate 93, and then there was that break-in reported late one night at the local nursing home in 1999, which later turned out to be either a moose or deer that crashed through a thermal pane window and into a resident’s room. The critter later found its way back outside.
“I saw tufts of hair on the floor,” McKay reported the next morning. “I’m pretty sure it was a moose.”
McKay’s experience with wildlife was not confined to moose.
“He was on duty one day when a turkey flew into his cruiser,” Montminy said.
His fellow officers have talked often this week about his particular brand of humor and dry wit, but for a California father, it is McKay’s compassion that he will always hold dear.
Just a day after the fifth anniversary Thursday of the death of his son, Troy, on a stretch of I-93, Bryan Devoe of Truckee, Calif., learned of McKay’s death.
“It was a bad accident and people were afraid to go to Troy,” Devoe said of his son’s accident. “There was a sign of life – not much – but Bruce went right to him to offer whatever care and comfort he could. He was the last person my son saw on earth.”
The Devoes later met McKay and they were able to ask him about those last moments when he was with their son. Over the years, on trips to New Hampshire, they made it a point to visit with him.
“He will always be a part of our lives,” Devoe said. “This has hit us pretty hard.”
For local newspaper publisher Jim McIntosh, McKay, who was also an EMT, gave a reassuring presence when he suffered a heart attack in January.
“My driveway was icy,” he recalled. “Bruce parked at the bottom, leaving his blue lights on to signal the Life Squad and other first responders. He slid his way up to my door,
entered and called for me. I told the 911 operator that he had arrived. His grin was a huge reassurance.”
McKay ended up taking the wheel of the life squad van on the way to the hospital, leaving his cruiser behind.
“He took a couple of jokes about his fast driving,” McIntosh said. ‘It’s a good thing McKay isn’t on patrol or he’d pull us over.’
McIntosh’s doctors credit the early care he received from the first responders.
“When I was discharged, I thanked each of the guys personally,” he said. “Bruce, echoing the others, said that he was just doing his job. ‘That’s what I’m here for.’”
His friends remember McKay as a very private man, whose great loves included his daughter, Courtney, his fiancee, Sharon Davis, his dogs and his motorcycle.
McKay also had a passion for photography. Within the telephone booth-sized lobby of the police department, photos of the effects of vehicle crashes with moose and black ice are tacked up, with explanations about their causes.
But he also had an eye for nature photos, often sharing email photos of the beauty of Franconia, such as dramatic banks of clouds rolling over the Notch on a late summer’s day.
“He enjoyed the North Country,” Montminy said. “This isn’t big city life.”
Bogart and McKay planned to spend some time enjoying McKay’s world.
“We planned to go hiking in the White Mountains one day when our schedules would allow – that day did not come,” he said.
~ Lorna Colquhoun