By Rick Cawley
For the Review
The next time you want to visualize the image of someone taken well before their time by the ravages of the Covid pandemic, picture the face of recently departed 5th District Officer Tab Ali.
Officer Ali, who was a fit 60 at the time of his passing, was the embodiment of good health. Ali worked out daily, was a member of various gyms and participated in distance races. He could still get up and down a basketball court without breaking a sweat. He rode his bike every day as part of his 5th District patrol assignment along the Manayunk business corridor.
And yet, upon developing flu-like symptoms, he would succumb to the often deadly virus in his home in a matter of days.
At the request of Central Manayunk Council President John Teague, who is the unofficial “Mayor of Manayunk, and who did yeoman’s work presiding over the event, the City of Philadelphia and the Phila. Police Department staged a stirring tribute last week at the 5th District station focused on a man that so many held in the highest regard. The cold temperatures and heaps of snow on the ground did not deter a sizable turnout of those wishing to honor a trusted fixture in our community.
The list of attendees was impressive and included Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, John McNesby from the Fraternal Order of Police, Council members Curtis Jones Jr. and Katherine Gilmore Richardson as well as more local heavy hitters such as Manayunk Development Corporation Executive Director Gwen Murphy McCauley and former 5th District Captain, John Moroney.
Chaplain Jack Kennedy gave his usual heartfelt invocation to open the salute to Officer Ali. Those who spoke about the life of Officer Ali and their memories of him tossed around adjectives like dedicated, warm, caring, affable, genuine, devout, and earnest.
Gwen Murphy McCauley of the MDC was over the moon in her appreciation of how Officer Ali brought such a calming specter to the store and restaurant owners along Main St. as well as an engaging presence to the patrons and residents who crossed paths with him.
John Teague remembered how Officer Ali would stop by his residence on a daily basis to chew the fat, often filling out his paperwork on Teague’s front stoop during Ali’s 15 years on the job in the neighborhood. As might be expected from the mingling of such transcendant personalities, they became fast friends.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw cited Ali’s impeccable service record during his 25 years on the force and the glowing reports of steadfast and implacable police work from his superiors. 5th District Captain Malachi Jones said he couldn’t recall Officer Ali ever missing a day of work and how confident he felt knowing that the Main St. business district was in such capable hands.
There were several members of Ali’s extended family who took part in the ceremony and wanted to show their appreciation for the profoundly moving testimonial to their loved one. His sister, Dietrich Johnson, was presented with a City Citation by Captain Jones praising the accolades of Officer Ali that was drafted through the input of Council members Curtis Jones Jr. and Katherine Gilmore Richardson as well as U.S. Congressman Dwight Evans. Jones mentioned that the two words that came to his mind in his recollection of Officer Ali were “respected and courageous.”
Film crews from the local news networks were on hand to capture the Ali homage for those unable to attend. In an interview following the function, Ali’s nephew Thomas Johnson spoke of his fond memories of his uncle but also used the forum to reiterate the guidelines of health officials on social gatherings on Ali’s behalf and “to mask up for those you know and for those you don’t know.”
Officer Tab Ali was a true Philadelphian who was School District educated, graduating from Parkway High School before continuing on to Temple University. His Philly roots would carry over to his service with the Police Department.
The true calling of the former Marine was initially serving his country and eventually channeling that deep sense of caring into serving the communities in which he was assigned. Those who were fortunate to have their lives entwined with the devout Muslim would come away as better people for it.
John Teague was able to sum up his remembrance of Tab Ali in a nutshell. “Tab will always be part of the heart and soul of Manayunk.” He remarked that his bond with Ali will live on despite his passing, “he will always be my brother.”