The long-retired cop was weary of reading bad news about cops accused of doing bad things.
There was the string of arrests of city officers on drunk-driving-related charges, just as police begin their annual holiday checkstop program. And there was also the cop who was charged with assault for allegedly giving a mouthy 12-year-old boy a slap.
For some, the rash of charges has been a slap in the face for the whole police service.
My friend, a former city police officer who wrote to me this week, asked to keep his identity confidential. But I’ll give him a nom de plume anyway. "Buddy" was writing to share a story from his time on the job, because he felt the need to put the unprofessional behaviour of some cops in perspective.
The story was meant to shine a kind light on another former cop, whom Buddy admired.
The two first met in 1974, as members of recruit-class 80.
"I was in class 80 with (former Winnipeg police chief) Jack Ewatski," Buddy began," and a bunch of young cops from Winnipeg, St. James, St. Boniface, St. Vital, East and West Kildonan, former RCMP and one memorable older recruit from East St. Paul PD."
That older recruit was Cleo St. George.
"While most of us were in our early 20s and full of beans, Cleo was in his early 40s, having done a 20-year stint in the Canadian Armed Forces before becoming a cop. He was a natural for class valedictorian with his maturity, and the fact that he could actually march more than 30 feet without screwing up. One of the most likable and personable guys around."
Cleo worked only briefly as a cop, then moved on to become Safeway’s chief security officer and ultimately, the grocery chain’s head of security for Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
"Years passed, and our paths crossed occasionally," Buddy wrote.
Then, one winter late afternoon, when Cleo was working as a Safeway security officer and Buddy patrolling the city, they connected in the most meaningful and memorable of ways. It was Christmas Eve, and Buddy had been called to a disturbance at a downtown apartment building that was well known to police.
"The drunk we found in the upstairs hallway had been yelling and kicking several suite doors," Buddy recalled.
Police managed to arrest him, and a cruiser took him to the Main Street Project.
"I was the street supervisor, and lingered a few minutes to grab the caller’s info and assure everyone who stuck their head out of their door that the coast was again clear."
It was what Buddy saw behind one of those doors where the story really begins.
"Her name was Rose," Buddy said. "Beats me how I remember that."
Buddy also recalled that she appeared to be about 20, Indigenous and cradling a baby, with two other little ones clinging to her legs.
"Three under three," as he wrote.
Buddy said he could see the sparsely furnished living room and a feeble little Christmas tree.
But no presents under it.
And, as he quickly learned, no food in the apartment.
"Babies had eaten the last of it that morning... and she had not eaten at all. I was actually overwhelmed by it for a second."
Then, figuring it was too late to call social services or even the Christmas Cheer Board, Buddy remembered his old police pal at Safeway.
Cleo was just leaving work to be with his family on Christmas Eve, when Buddy reached him with his emergency call to help Rose and her children.
"I said she has nothing. Gave him the lowdown on the kids’ ages, the address. He told me to meet him at the Sargent and Maryland Safeway in 15 minutes. I did, expecting a little care package to tide her over until social services could get involved."
Instead, Buddy recounted, the store manager, the assistant manager and two cashiers "took two cars full of groceries, what toys they could find, sundries, toiletries, candy and bakery goods, mandarin oranges..."
Last winter, Buddy said he called Cleo at his retirement home in the interior of British Columbia, and they reminisced about that Christmas Eve.
"I told him that must have been her best Christmas ever. Typical of Cleo, he just said, ‘It meant a lot to be able to help her.’"
Buddy was hoping to visit with Cleo this summer, so they could do some more reminiscing. But last May, Cleo St. George died at the age of 83.
I gathered that part of the point of Buddy’s story was to remind us to appreciate the good works people do while they’re still alive. Particularly, in this case, the good work so many of our police officers do every day — not just because it’s their job, but because it’s who they are.
I guess you could call that a well-meant slap on the back for all of them, from all of us.
Read more by Gordon Sinclair Jr..