SOUDERTON — Before reading aloud a resolution honoring James P. Leary following his retirement as police chief in January, Mayor John Reynolds paused to note the crowd of police officers from the Souderton and neighboring departments on hand for the presentations at Souderton Borough Council's March 1 meeting.
"I can tell by seeing the number of people here that this is a special night for an awful lot of people," Reynolds said.
Leary implemented significant initiatives in his more than 10 years as the department's chief, the resolution said, particularly in training and technology. He also was instrumental in the borough's active membership in a regionalized emergency management team, the resolution said.
"Throughout his tenure, Chief Jim Leary provided opportunities for career development for the individual officers, organizational development for the department, improved service to the community and the development of best possible plans for the future of the Souderton Borough Police Department," the resolution continued.
Leary's involvement in the Souderton-Telford Rotary, the borough's 125th anniversary celebrations in 2012, the annual fireworks display, community ecumenical worship service and support for Keystone Opportunity Center and other community service organizations was also noted.
"Although Jim is leaving Borough government, his dedication should serve to inspire others to devote their talents and energies to advancing the public good," the resolution said.
Leary's career in law enforcement spanned 46 years with three Montgomery County departments — 30 years with the Abington Township Police Department, rising to the rank of lieutenant; five years as chief of the Rockledge Borough Police Department; then more than 10 years as Souderton's chief.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele noted that work, along with Leary having served during the Vietnam War.
"I have a commendation for you, Jim, and it talks about the hero that you have been," Steele said.
"I am going to miss you," Steele told Leary, "and I know this community is going to miss you because you've meant the world to it."
State Rep. Steve Malagari, D-53, and Emmanuel Lutheran Church Pastor John Heidgerd noted Leary's assistance with the church's free meals program to help feed the hungry.
"Chief Leary has faithfully displayed great loyalty, commitment and professionalism in the performance of his duties as a member of the Souderton Borough Police Department," Malagari read from a House of Representatives citation that said Leary "served as a role model for all those who aspired to a career in law enforcement."
Two Souderton artists also made presentations.
Eric Boynton, who described Leary as an "exemplary part of this community" gave him a tile plaque replica of a Souderton police badge.
"The borough asked me to create something that would commemorate, celebrate and pay homage to some of the great achievements you've had here in Souderton over the last 10 years. It's hard to narrow it down to this space," Harry Boardman said during the unveiling of the painting he gave Leary.
Scenes depicted included a car show, fireworks, the ecumenical service, a Souderton police vehicle, chief's badge, the Souderton department's patch, the borough logo and the Rotary Club logo.
"Service, compassion, friendship are three words that I think come to mind when I think of the job that Jim has done here," council President Brian Goshow commented.
Souderton Police Detective Joseph Rudner said he started his police career with the Abington department and has known Leary for almost 38 years.
"Over those 38 years, you went from not only being my boss, but to being a friend, so you are no longer my boss, but you will always be my friend," said Rudner, who presented Leary with his retired Souderton badge as other Souderton officers stood with them.
"I know you'll find it remarkably easy to look at me as no longer your boss," Leary told the officers, "but I hope that you will look at me as a friend and a supporter and someone you can call on for the rest of your life."
Leary was brought to the meeting in a parade of police vehicles with flashing lights. Following the meeting, the celebration continued with cupcakes in the lobby of the borough office.