Remembering A Special Friend

Former Chief Overman, the late, great Officer Johnny Pun and Skip Brown.

Former Chief Overman, the late, great Officer Johnny Pun and Skip Brown.

“The most beautiful people I have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

That has to be one of my very favorite quotes.

If you consider those you love and admire, the beautiful people in your life, you will find that quote to be true. As much as we wish nothing but wine and roses for our loved ones, the reality is in every life there will be challenges and heartbreaks.

Those who manage to find their way out of the depths and look out for others are special indeed.

I know more than a few of these people and they have been a blessing to me and my family and a gift to our community.

About two weeks ago, one of the prime examples of the quote above reached out to me with a wonderful message of friendship. Skip Brown is a retired Delray Beach Police Officer who is living in Alabama these days with his lovely wife, Cheryl.

Skip was challenged by Cheryl to reach out to important people in his life and let them know how much they have meant to his life. The contents of that conversation are private and personal, but I wanted to share the concept of reaching out to five key people in your life while you still can and while they are still around. And I wanted to share some thoughts about Skip and his generation of police officers who meant so much to Delray Beach.

First, what a powerful idea it is to think about the key people in your life and how and why they made such an impact.

To share those feelings with those cherished people is a powerful act; it enriches both the messenger and the recipient. I got Skip’s call during a particularly stressful week, the funny part is I know longer remember what I was so stressed about, which is a lesson in itself. This too shall pass, they say; and most of the time that’s right. But Skip’s phone call instantly lifted my spirits and his “gift” (and that’s what it was) has stayed with me and will stay with me.

It’s nice to know you matter to people you care about. It’s nice to know that your friendship has made a difference in a great man’s life.

I met Skip when I was a kid in my early 20s. He was a big, very big and burly cop and I was a very young and naïve reporter. Skip was gruff, but always fair and honest and I appreciated his willingness to take some time and teach me about Delray and about life.

He had a world of experience when I met him. Years on road patrol and time in the jungles of Vietnam. I came from suburban Long Island from a very stable household and had seen very little, he had driven a truck before becoming a police officer and seen an awful lot, emphasis on awful.

On the surface we didn’t have much in common. But I was fascinated by Delray and Skip was a big part of an effort to make the city safer. The people who were involved at that time were in the midst of building something very special.

When I met him, Skip was a K-9 officer. He had a huge German Shepherd named Rambo who was a local legend. Later, he would have a wonderful K-9 named Olk, who died too soon, in front of Skip one day before work. Skip loved his dogs and his birds and my new puppy Magnum, a goofy golden retriever who reminded him of the dog on the Bush’s Baked Beans commercial.

I lived around the block from Skip and we spent time at each other’s homes—well driveways mostly– talking into the wee hours of the night about everything Delray.

Skip and several other K-9 officers at the time, including Phil Dorfman, Will McCollum and Geoff Williams, did a lot of community outreach in those days taking the dogs to schools and events. Those kind of efforts along with D.A.R.E. programs and community policing did much to change the perception of the Delray Beach Police Department.

I’ve said often and will continue to emphasize that Delray’s revitalization was made possible by the Delray Beach Police Department. Skip and many other officers are the unsung heroes of Delray and their efforts were tireless, authentic and in-depth.

Skip was at the forefront of many of these efforts, leaving K-9 and becoming the department’s Volunteer Coordinator which at the time had well over 1,000 volunteers –an astounding number for a city our size. The program won international recognition with news stories on CNN and other national outlets, chapters in scholarly books and even a visit from President Bush, Governor Bush and Rudy Guiliani after 9-11. Former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who used to spend winters in Delray, became a huge fan of the department, riding along with officers and gathering information for courses he taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

I can go on. But the most important takeaways are the relationships that were built as a result of these efforts. They made the whole difference: instead of being fearful of police, people in troubled neighborhoods opened up about their problems and worked with officers to solve issues. On a personal level, I saw a lot of friendships develop. Skip was particularly good at this. Many of his volunteers were senior citizens, members of the “greatest generation” who fought in World War II. Skip respected them and they returned his loyalty with service and devotion to the department and the city. When they got sick, he was there by their side. He spent many a sleepless night in a hospital or hospice and always tended to family members in their time of need and beyond.

The department also reached out to the Haitian community, starting Citizens Police Academies for Creole speaking residents in a successful effort to break down barriers. Skip taught at the academy and recruited volunteers forming a nationally recognized Haitian Roving Patrol, which was part of an All America City effort.

The volunteer program served as the department’s eyes and ears and the volunteers were committed to the department and the city giving hours of their time to training and patrols.

The chief at the time, Rick Overman, was the architect and quite simply a transformational leader. But while Overman was a master strategist, his greatest strength was recognizing and empowering talented employees and letting them soar. Skip was one of those guys. And he soared. So did the city.

The officers I met during that era, the late 80s, were a very interesting group of characters. Some were larger than life personalities. There was talent at just about every position; magnificent detectives, experts on community policing, brave undercover officers, tough as nails Tact Team officers, a stellar K-9 unit and officers who specialized in what is called problem oriented policing; using a variety of resources to get at the root of issues.

But Chief Overman knew he could not tackle the city’s challenges on his own. His department and his officers needed the community and he became a magnet for involvement. Skip and many others were extensions of that philosophy—they challenged residents to get involved and to take ownership of their streets, neighborhood and city. What resulted was a partnership, relationships and trust.

Skip was a builder of those ideals. Every day he sought to partner, promote and build relationships.

They were special times and Skip was made for the job.

I’m pleased to see another product of that era, Chief Jeff Goldman, take a new generation of officers and have them focus on community and relationships. It works. It truly does.

With headlines all across America questioning the relationship between police and communities, it’s comforting to know that we have the right philosophy in place. Yes, it costs money to attract and retain talent, but it will cost you a whole lot more if you fail to build a department that protects and serves with integrity and distinction.

I hope you’ll “do like Skip” and call those special people in your life. It’s all about paying it forward. And I hope we invest in the men and women who protect and serve us. If we don’t, we risk it all.




  1. Patrick Ross says

    Fabulous piece, Jeff. My wife and I have been homeowners in Delray Beach for 15 years. The bits and pieces of history contained within this piece offers great insight into the years before our arrival, and a glimpse into the “who and how” efforts to what became the “All American City” designation (twice) of Delray Beach. There is a debt of gratitude to people like Skip Brown and the thousand volunteers whose work shaped the Delray Beach of today. I would be remiss if I also did not salute your leadership as Mayor during those years of growth. Thank you.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks Patrick. I really appreciate your comments. As they say it takes a village but the village is made up of individuals who step up and make a difference. We have been blessed with many. Skip was among the best.

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