MERRIMAC —Chief Eric Shears and the Merrimac Police Department would like to share that Sgt. David Vance and Patrolman Michael McGrath are retiring from the department after 43 and 41 years in law enforcement respectively.
Both will retire officially on Monday, Nov. 1.
Sgt. Vance was born and raised in Merrimac. Officer McGrath was born and raised in Groveland. Both men graduated from Pentucket Regional High School, Officer McGrath with the Class of 1976 and Sgt. Vance with the Class of 1977.
Their hometown roots in the Pentucket District were a foundation of their long and storied law enforcement careers.
“They’re amazing men,” Chief Shears said. “They’re dedicated to the job, committed to taking care of people, and committed to building relationships with the community.”
Sgt. Vance became a full-time officer shortly after finishing his education. Officer McGrath worked as a call firefighter in Groveland for six years, and then as a reserve police officer in Groveland for eight years before joining the Merrimac Police Department.
As a reserve officer, McGrath spent decades picking up shifts in the evening, on holidays and on weekends all while working full-time at Lucent Technologies and then Stoneham Bank.
“He was always one of the first to call in if something happened,” Chief Shears said. “Mike has always been the first to show up if we need anything.”
Chief Shears joined the department as a dispatcher at age 19, and Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath were among officers who were especially supportive of his efforts to become a police officer. When Shears succeeded in that goal a year later and became a reserve police officer, Vance served as his field training officer.
“He taught me how to talk to people and told me to smile, be kind and courteous to people. He taught me the importance of community relationships,” Chief Shears said. “He did that with many officers as he took them under his wing.”
Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath don’t speak of arrests or action-filled incidents when they recount their best memories from their careers.
Officer McGrath said the highlight of his career was delivering baby just a few years ago when a resident went into labor in her home.
For Sgt. Vance, it was his work with the Pentucket Regional School District, working with students and staff, where he helped establish and grow the DARE program and became known to all as “Officer Dave.”
“Officer Dave” didn’t limit his work in the schools to his DARE assignment, though. He also chaperoned field trips to camps and staffed a longtime tradition in which Pentucket Regional High School seniors spend a night together before graduation. He even spent a year working as a substitute gym teacher while the regular teacher battled cancer.
There were difficult parts of the job as well. Having close ties to the community meant both men responded to incidents in which people they knew were killed or severely injured. Sgt. Vance was on duty when an immediate family member went missing and was later found to have passed away.
The late Police Chief James Flynn Jr. — who led the department for 28 years before retiring in 2011 — was a mentor to both Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath and meant so much to both men that they helped refurbish his home when he began battling Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS). They both visited Chief Flynn several times a week after his retirement. On the night of March 19, 2016 both Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath were visiting Chief Flynn. After they spent some time talking to Mrs. Flynn, they all went into the den and discovered Chief Flynn had passed away.
As someone who always took other officers under his wing, Sgt. Vance has advice for others who will face the difficult parts of the job.
“You need to talk to people after a difficult situation, whether it’s a professional or just a friend,” Vance said. “Don’t just leave it be and try to handle it yourself.”
Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath also urge younger officers to maintain a balance between work and home life, to keep a focus on their families, and to not take work issues back home with them.
Officer Stephen Ringuette doesn’t hesitate if you ask him what Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath taught him over the years.
“What didn’t they teach me? I was only 1 or 2 years old when we met,” said Officer Ringuette, who grew up in Haverhill and whose father is a retired sergeant from Merrimac and friend to both men. “They taught me the right way to do things and how to earn trust.”
“They taught me patience — to take my time when dealing with people and to treat people with respect and dignity,” said Officer Stephen Beaulieu. “I will never forget that.”
Chief Shears said Sgt. Vance and Officer McGrath are prime examples of the community-focused culture that has long been a key to the Merrimac Police Department, initiated during Chief Flynn’s tenure and continued today.
“It’s not about the building or the equipment or the services we provide. It’s about people, and we have an amazing group of people who are dedicated to this community,” said Chief Shears. “I could not be more proud of them. Congratulations to both on their retirement today!”