By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Trudy Meyers isn’t Catholic. But for the fourth New Year’s Day in a row, on the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Meyers has joined Catholics and others in a holiday and holy day congregation at a special Mass at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in south central Kansas City.
She comes from her Northland home miles away, regardless of the weather which was icy and snowy this Jan. 1, because of Tom.
“I come here to honor the police officers killed in the line of duty,” Meyers said.
And this day, St. Therese Little Flower Parish honored Office Tom Meyers, killed in the line of duty on Jan. 14, 1998, the second to the last Kansas City police officer to die while serving others.
During the Mass, Police Maj. Dianne Mozzicato called Trudy Meyers forward, as well as her daughter, Tracy Meyers-Keeling, and the grandson Tom never met, Brennan Meyers-Keeling.
Before the congregation that included parishioners, members of the Irish Ancient Order of Hibernians, and active duty and retired police officers and firefighters, Maj. Mozzicato announced that the parish had donated a bench in Officer Meyers’ honor to be installed along the Trail of Heroes, a police department park at 6801 N.E. Shoal Creek Parkway set aside to remember all the 119 Kansas City police officers killed in the line of duty, from Officer Martin Hynes in 1881 to Officer Craig Schultz in 2001.
Servant to every fiber of his being, Officer Meyers wasn’t even professionally required to respond to the scene of the traffic accident along Interstate 29 that would also be the scene of his death.
But the Marine Corps veteran had no other moral choice, his wife said.
“He was assigned to a special unit of the traffic division authorized to answer calls about problem drivers, people driving too fast or erratically,” Trudy Meyers said.
While patrolling the northbound lanes of I-29 near Tiffany Springs Parkway shortly before 11 a.m., he witnessed a Jeep spin out of control in the southbound lanes and strike the concrete median wall.
He could have called it in to the accident division and stayed away. But that was not the way Officer Tom Meyers was made. He was a police officer, the first one there. He had to respond himself. So he turned his police cruiser around at the next exit and used his car, its emergency lights flashing, to provided traffic control along the busy interstate, keeping the Jeep’s driver and passenger, as well as the tow truck driver who arrived quickly, out of harm’s way, according to the book.
“He would always stop to help.” Trudy said. “It was just so typical of him to help.”
The book, however, couldn’t predict what happened next.
A drunk driver — at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning — swerved to avoid the patrol car, it’s emergency lights flashing, but then just as quickly swerved back into the left hand lanes and the median where Officer Meyers was taking information from the Jeep’s driver and passenger.
The drunk driver struck all three, killing Officer Meyers and severely injuring the other victims.
Trudy Meyers later found out that the driver who killed her husband had a blood-alcohol content three times the legal limit.
She also discovered that he was a military veteran with an alcohol problem well known to the military. Instead of treatment, her husband’s killer received a dishonorable discharge, and that is an anger she can’t quite give up.
“I tend to put blame on this on the military,” Trudy said. “If they had done their duty then and gotten him treatment, then this may not have happened. But they didn’t want to handle the problem.”
But like her husband, she has put her emotional energy into service for others, specifically the families of police officers killed in the line of duty through a national organization called Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS).
And when she learned three years ago that St. Therese Little Flower Parish was reviving a tradition that had gone on for decades of honoring police officers killed in the line of duty with the first Mass of every new year, she had to come.
“They (the parish) are showing respect to officers on the street,” Trudy said. “We are part of the police family. We want to keep that connection.”
At her side, every year, is her friend Diane Little sharing a bond that only police widows share. Little, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gladstone, is the wife of Placentia, Calif., Officer Joey Little, who died on duty in 1996, also in a traffic collision.
The two women met at Officer Meyers’ visitation service.
Neither can forget, nor do they want to.
“I miss him every day,” said Trudy Meyers. “But you go on. You never forget.”
She will never forget, she said, the great guy she was married to.
“Tom had a sense of humor. He was always pulling jokes on someone,” Trudy said, a smile replacing the tears she shed an hour earlier when Maj. Mozzicato announced the memorial to her husband.
“He just had a personality that was out there and ornery,” she said.
Nearly 15 years after his death, Officer Tom Meyers won’t be forgotten, his wife said. The memorial bench will serve as a reminder, especially to police officers who never knew him of a life dedicated to the service of others, even to death.
“That bench is a reminder that he is not forgotten,” Trudy Meyers said. “I want other officers to know who Tom was. If they don’t, then he really died for nothing. But if the officers remember every death in the line of duty, maybe it will prevent the next one.”
The tradition at St. Therese Little Flower Parish was revived on New Year’s Day, 2010, when the parish administrator, Father Ernie Davis, discovered a tarnished, ornate chalice forgotten in storage at the parish.
On the bottom was a clue of an inscription: “In loving memory of Dennis J. Whalen by his wife, Anna Whalen.”
Father Davis turned the chalice over to sisters Patty Glynn and Kathy Glynn Thompson-Rausch for both restoration and research.
Poring through parish records, the sisters discovered that the chalice was a memorial gift to the founding pastor of St. Therese Little Flower Parish, Msgr. Maurice Coates from Mrs. Whalen, who had the precious metals from the jewelry her police officer husband gave her through those years of marriage melted down to make the chalice.
Every year until his death in 1962, Msgr. Coates celebrated the first Mass of every year at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in honor of Whalen and all Kansas City police officers killed in the line of duty.
It is fitting that the tradition honoring service continue, and at St. Therese Little Flower, and on the Solmenity of Mary, Mother of God, said Deacon Darwin Dupree, himself a veteran of the Kansas City Police Department, in his homily at this year’s police memorial Mass.
“All of us are involved in the work of service to humanity, one way or another,” Deacon Dupree said.
But like Mary, we need to listen to God to know how he wants each of us to serve, he said.
“Mary did not understand right away, but she kept those words in her heart and pondered what they meant,” Deacon Dupree said.
“God speaks to us in the same way, through the Gospel and through our personal experiences with God,” he said.
“We need to be still, and we need to listen to God,” he said. “Prayer is a two-way street. We shouldn’t go to God with all our demands and all our concerns, then just walk away. We should listen to the response of God. We need to listen to his word in quiet time.”
On Jan. 1, at the first Mass celebrated every year, St. Therese Little Flower Parish offers quiet time to remember the sacrifice of police officers.