‘We couldn’t help but love him’
Coffee and bagels before starting the tour sounded good to Bloomingdale officers working the traffic detail on this morning. They mustered at the local QuickChek, where patrolman Gary Walker offered to treat the guys. As he often did. He had such a big heart.
But Walker had a big funny bone, too. So he set up his best friend in the department, Bloomingdale Local 354 President Bob Grabowski, for one of the classic pranks Walker loved to pull. He gave Grabowski a gift card to pick up the tab of maybe $25.
“But there as like $1.17 on the gift card,” Grabowski deadpanned. “That was Gary at his best. He made work a good time.”
Walker had the gift of gags, and from Bloomingdale Chief Joseph Borrell on down, they have a tough time sharing some of those stories. Not just because Walker has left them, a victim of COVID-19 who passed on April 24 after battling for a month in the hospital. But because some of those gags are not exactly fit to print.
“From early on his career, he always wanted to make you laugh, even at the expense of himself,” Borrell said of the man who he had as the FTO. “He wanted to put a smile on everybody’s face. He’s the kind of guy you need in your department.”
This was Walker at his best, giving Local 354 members whom he served as State Delegate for 10 years a way to defuse the stress of the job.
And this was Walker at Walker at his best: scheduling department softball games and outings to Mets and Yankees games, planning the holiday party, orchestrating community fundraisers, getting everybody out for bowling night. He lived for bringing people together.
And this was Walker at his best: Taking his daughter Demi on summer trips to see baseball stadiums along with his beloved wife Danielle and facilitating her “Chasing the Dream” YouTube show for which she interviewed the likes of Boomer Esiason and Joe Piscopo.
And this was Walker at his best: Serving as the all-for-one union rep, who never needed to file a single grievance during his time as State Delegate. And, as Borrell noted, being the open-minded leader who wanted to sit down and communicate rather than taking things to a level where nobody wins.
“It’s really easy to lose your sense of humor on this job, but Gary always brought that because he wanted to be the calming force,” praised Conrad Jimenez, who succeeded Walker as Local 354 State Delegate. “I think that’s the one thing we will miss most about Gary: his calming sense of humor and calming presence.”
The 53-year-old Walker came with Bloomingdale in March 2000. At the same time, he began working his way up to become a captain in the Oakland Fire Department. During a press conference a few days after he passed, Governor Murphy stated, “He epitomized the selflessness of our first responders.”
Borrell confirmed that Bloomingdale will never again issue Walker’s badge number. And his locker will be turned into a memorial.
He will forever be remembered by one of his nicknames, “Twister.” No matter how hard he tried, whenever he came to work his uniform always looked a little disheveled.
“He looked like he had been through a tornado,” Borrell described. “But we couldn’t help but love him.”
Grabowski recalled how Walker would keep the group together with his “Gary-isms,” a language he created. He recalled how Walker made it so coming to work was never work.
“The 17 guys in our department made up our own little puzzle. I think Gary was the board and all our pieces fit into that,” he continued. “Gary always saw the light and he was the bright light.”