By Karen Zautyk
KEARNY — The ceremony was scheduled for 11 a.m. last Friday, Dec. 1. But by 10:30, the guest of honor, (now retired) Kearny Police Chief John Dowie, was still nowhere to be found. He wasn’t in his office. He wasn’t anywhere in KPD headquarters. Someone even speculated that, being a man not attracted to the spotlight, maybe he would not show up at all.
But that would never happen. Chief Dowie would not let down his troops, who were gathering outside the Laurel Ave. building to formally bid him goodbye on his last day in office.
Sure enough, at 11 o’clock, the door to HQ opened, and there he was, ready to exchange salutes with all of Kearny’s Finest on the occasion of his retirement after 19 years as chief.
But, where had he been earlier that morning?
Turns out that, as he was driving to HQ, he came upon a motor vehicle accident, and, being a cop to the end, he stopped to deal with the situation until the regular patrol units could arrive. Call it a final defining moment — defining the gentleman and his dedication to his job and his town.
Kearny has always been his town. A lifelong resident (born in West Hudson Hospital), he intends to continue living here. He truly loves the place, which is one of the reasons he was so committed to his job.
Dowie has spent nearly 40 years in law enforcement, all but two with the KPD.
After serving as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division — which he joined at age 18 — he got a job with the Kearny Water Department, then took advantage of the G.I. Bill to study public safety administration at William Paterson College, while working overnight security at Montclair State.
He first served two years as a member of the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police, then joined the KPD as a patrolman in 1979. He also worked as an accident investigator, was promoted to sergeant in 1985, lieutenant in ‘89 and captain in ‘94.
It was in ‘94 that he was also named Police Officer of the Year by the department’s Valor Committee.
In 1997, he was appointed deputy chief and became what he called an “accidental chief” when Chief Thomas “Tim” Sharples retired in early ‘98. Dowie noted that he never planned to be chief. Though he had wanted to been a policeman since he was 5 years old.
“I loved being a street cop, and still do,” he said. (Which helps explain his being MIA early Friday.)
While we were interviewing him, he actually spent more time talking about his father, John B. Dowie, than about himself. The elder Dowie, who died at age 89 in 2015, had been a star student athlete (baseball, basketball, football and soccer) and was inducted into the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Upon graduation in 1944, he joined the Army, serving in the Pacific — New Guinea, the Philippines, Japan — was wounded in action and received the Purple Heart.
“But he never talked about it,” the chief said, more than once — something that obviously has remained with him to this day. Not that John B. was perfect.
“My father was also a Kearny cop,” the chief said, “until he broke my heart and became a fireman.” But “blue blood” still runs in Dowie veins — the chief’s son, Jonathan, is now a KPD officer.
At Friday’s ceremony — replete with KPD honor guard, scores of officers, other police chiefs and KFD officers, Council members and, of course, Dowie’s family — Mayor Alberto Santos thanked the retiree for “four decades of extraordinary service to our town.”
“He’s one of our finest public servants,” the mayor said. “A strong, effective and honest cop” who “brought stability” to the KPD, with ‘an emphasis on trust.”
Presenting Dowie with the American flag that had flown over headquarters during the chief’s last month in office, his successor, Deputy Chief George King, said, “It is a privilege and an honor for me to have served with John.”
“He’s a cop’s cop,” King commented, adding, “He’ll always be there for us and we’ll always be there for him.”
Later, Dowie — chief’s gold badge gleaming on his ribbon-bedecked uniform — reached into his jacket and brought out the silver shield he wore as a rookie and declared, “And I’m always going to be [badge] No. 108.”
And, to echo King, we are certain No. 108 will always be there for Kearny.