On his morning commutes to Harvard, Walsh would periodically embarrass his children by stopping his car to offer rides to strangers standing along Mt. Auburn St.—he knew bus stops were especially fertile places to find people. “Dad, what are you doing?” daughter Barbara J. Walsh remembers asking her father on those morning trips.
The genial former police captain, a man who acquaintances say practiced this same shameless generosity to students in his decades of service at Harvard, passed away in a hospice facility at 2 a.m. yesterday after years of declining health. He was 91.
Walsh joined the Harvard police force in 1952 and rose to the position of captain sometime prior to 1967, according to his son Thomas E. Walsh, who could not remember the exact year of his father’s appointment.
“The stories about him helping students were absolutely legion,” said Arthur G. Luongo, a former HUPD sergeant who worked for Walsh. “From day one, he was always devoted to the Harvard community...I think the happiest years of his life were spent at the Harvard police department. There’s no doubt about it.”
During his time at Harvard, Walsh was a stalwart proponent of protecting students and taking a “more paternal approach”—not seeking solely to punish them, according to Barbara Walsh.
In the aftermath of an Aug. 8, 2008 incident in which HUPD officers confronted a young black man attempting to remove a lock from his own bicycle, Walsh wrote a firmly-worded letter to the district attorney of Boston to voice his concern about the growing disconnect between Harvard police and students, according to his daughter.
“He used to walk the Yard, and he would know students by name...but the police and students no longer know each other on a personal level,” Barbara Walsh said. “He thought that the police should be more protective of the students rather than trying to be militaristic.”
“He was sad to see the change,” she added.
Though Walsh retired in 1984, he continued to pick up odd jobs, including working for Barbara, an attorney, from the age of 78 to 88. He volunteered at a homeless shelter and became a deacon at his Catholic church. But when old age began to limit his range of activity, he entered the care of his family.
At the conclusion of his 91st birthday party two weeks ago, Walsh fell and broke a few bones in his back and pelvis, landing him in the hospital. Walsh’s family was informed that his condition would not improve, and his diabetes and already deteriorating health pushed him towards his end.
“He’s probably the best boss I’ve ever had in my life,” Luongo said. “He is the best person anybody could ever work for. I wouldn’t equivocate on that at all.”
—Staff writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.