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Matt’s great and lasting gift

The morning of Nov. 22 dawned bright and clear. Our frontyard is

covered with leaves and the air is crisp. I can smell the wood smoke

from a neighbor’s fireplace. It’s a lovely fall day in Burbank.

Yesterday was cold and the skies were overcast, which seemed fitting.


It was the day we laid Officer Matthew Pavelka to rest.

It was 40 years ago today that another young man lost his life in

the service of his country. His name, of course, was John Fitzgerald

Kennedy. A newspaper man who attended Matt’s funeral wrote the sight


of the riderless horse reminded him of another gray and cold morning,

not so long ago, when a horse with no rider followed the funeral

cortege which bore the body of our young president through the

streets of Washington, D.C., as the nation looked on and wept.

Regardless of their politics, everyone who was old enough to

recall always remembers where they were when they heard the news that

John F. Kennedy had been shot. I was on the upper playground at the

volleyball court at John Muir Junior High School when our teacher


stopped the game and told us what had happened. I know I will always

remember where I was when I heard the news about Matt, as well. I was

lying in bed with my wife on that Sunday morning at 6:30 when the

phone rang. Lt. Welker told me she needed me to come in to work.

My first thought was that I had missed my payback day. “I’m not

assigned today, am I?” I asked. “Oh,” she said, “you haven’t heard

... Greg Campbell was shot last night and one of our young officers

was killed.” I do not know why, but the first person that came to


mind was Matthew. “I wonder if it was Pavelka?” I thought, for the

watch commander had not specified who we’d lost.

I had a clear picture of a bright-eyed young man with red hair,

“standing clear” as I met him on the stairs walking up from the

patrolman’s locker room. I told my wife what the lieutenant had said

as a quick, stabbing pain hit me in the chest. I found myself letting

out a sob, and my eyes filled with tears that such a thing had

happened to one of ours, not yet knowing who it was.

I have made it a point over the years to take a moment to stop,

introduce myself, and shake the hands of our new recruits. I remember

when I hired on and it was six months before anyone said “hello” to

me when I arrived at work. I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with

these people?” I later realized police officers tend to withhold

approval until someone has proved themselves to them. Misplaced

confidence in an unproven person can be costly in an emergency.

I was glad that I had a memory of Matthew Pavelka when I heard he

was the young fellow officer who had given his life in the line of

duty. A few months ago, I introduced myself to another one of our

many bright, new, eager, young faces. I told him I had been 26 years

old when I first started at Burbank P.D. and now, suddenly, it was 25

years later. “I’m 26, and today is my first day!” he replied. Like

the song says, “Who knows where the time goes?”

I would encourage all my fellow employees to take a moment when

they see one of our new officers and welcome them to our department.

Matt’s death is a shocking reminder of how quickly any one of us can

be taken. Any one of us who went to back Greg on that fateful night

might well have met Matt’s fate.

The feeling among us in the wake of Matt’s death is unlike

anything I’ve experienced in my quarter-century of service. The loss

of this young man has cut across all boundaries of rank, old

grievances, petty differences and ego. We are embracing each other,

and looking into each other’s eyes in a way we never have before. We

are asking each other, “Are you all right?” with real meaning. Matt’s

loss has shown us a depth of feeling within ourselves that some might

have doubted we possessed. This is Matt’s great and lasting gift. The

irony in receiving this gift to so many longtime employees from

someone who was here for such a short time is not lost on us. I am

reminded of the story in the Bible of the pauper who gave Jesus a

coin after many rich men had given large sums. Christ turned and said

to his disciples, “This is the greatest gift, for he has given all he


In death, Matt will remain forever young. His fiery hair will know

no gray. His grip is firm, his eyes bright, his laughter infectious.

This is the way he will live in our hearts.

In closing, I would like to share a poem that, I hope, fits the

occasion. A nurse at a hospital in the Philippines found these lines

by an unknown soldier near the end of World War II. They were

discovered in a box of memorabilia in 1994 at the 50th anniversary of

the end of that great conflict, and later set to music.

Sadly, Matthew Pavelka will be joined in his ultimate sacrifice

this year by other men and women in law enforcement, as well as those

who serve in our armed forces at home and abroad. This poem is an

entreaty to St. Peter, the guardian of the gates of heaven, and I

think it applies to all those who have given their lives in the cause

of freedom overseas and the keeping of the peace here at home. It is

titled, “Let Them In.”

“Let Them In”

Let them in, Peter, they are very tired

Give them couches where the

angels sleep

And light those fires

Let them wake whole again,

to brand new dawns

Fired by the sun, not wartime’s

bloody guns

May their peace be deep

Remember where the broken bodies lie

God knows how young they were,

to have to die

God knows how young they were,

to have to die

So give them things they like,

let them make some noise

Give dancehall bands,

not golden harps

To these, our boys

And let them love, Peter, for

they’ve had no time ...

They should have trees, and

bird songs, and hills to climb

The taste of summer, in ripened pear

And girls as sweet as meadow wind,

with flowing hair

Tell them how they are missed,

but say not to fear

It will be all right, with us down here

Let them in, Peter

Let them in, Peter

Let them in

Officer Reeve Rickard