PARIS — On December 29, 1978, Lana Willard was helping friends wallpaper an apartment. Soon, she got a call that would change her life and the entire town of Paris.

The call said something happened to her brother-in-law Timmy.  She and her husband Darrell rushed to his mother, Grace Willard’s, home. As they went to the hospital, Lana remained behind at the home and tried to answer Timmy’s friends who kept appearing at the house in droves.

“Friends kept showing up. I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t have any of the facts … I just knew that he was shot,” said Lana.

Lana didn’t know it yet, but around 4:30 p.m. Willard, who was a 22-year-old rookie at the Paris Police Department, was shot and killed in the line of duty.

“I consider this the worst thing that’s happened to this town in a long time,” former South Paris Police Chief Clayton E. Gay said in a Dec. 31 1978 interview with the Maine Sunday Telegram, two days after Willard was killed. And 41 years later, family, friends and former law-enforcement officers who knew Willard agree.  They also agree that Willard was a fine young man. A fine young man who deserves to be remembered for his kindhearted, gentle disposition and the nature of his sacrifice.

Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, former Representative and Oxford County Sheriff got his start at the Norway Police Department around the same time Willard was hired.

“He gave his life to protect others and the community. He did it with the most professional of any (police officer). I’ve hired and served with a lot of quality, good people. I just wish things were different and I had the opportunity when I retired to shake Timmy’s hand. That wasn’t to be,” said Herrick.

In the past year, Lana Willard has suffered a lot of loss. Darrell Willard, Timmy’s older brother, passed away in September at 74. Grace Willard, Timmy’s mom, passed away in January of 2019 at 90. She said both were profoundly affected by the death of Timmy. Darrell was 11 years older than Timmy, and acted like a father, brother, and best friend rolled up into one. Lana and Darrell were 15 when they started dating, and Timmy tagged along wherever they went.

“I had two boyfriends, Timmy and Darrell. He (Timmy) used to go places with us all the time. And then when we got married, he’d spend the night on weekends.
It was like having a child. When we met, (Timmy) was 5, and I was 15. It was really hard,” said Lana.

Lana was alone when she got the call from their family Doctor, Dr. Hazelton, that Timmy had died. When Grace came back, she was broken with grief.

“That was the first time I had ever seen her cry, and she wept in my arms. It was hard,” said Lana.

On January 3, this year, Lana sat at her kitchen table, surrounded by newspaper clippings and plaques and trophies kept by Grace in the days, months, and years after Timmy’s death. Some clippings recount the sad days after his death, when a community seemed to be traumatized by such a violent and sudden loss. But some were happy; a newspaper clipping of Timmy raising a barn for a livestock auctioning operation he was opening. Timmy, always athletic, leading his adult football team to victory.

Before becoming a police officer, Timothy Willard operated a livestock auction in West Paris. In a photograph taken sometime in the early 1970’s, Willard is riding a horse he brought over to Lana and Darrell Willard’s house.

A reminder that there was so much more to Timmy than the way that he died; that he was a joyful, lighthearted adult who, according to Lana, still had a lot of kid in him.

“Timmy was very popular with the girls. On the local radio station, a dedication to Timmy from the girls that we’re having a sleepover … there were a bunch of them. That’s how popular he was,” said Lana.

Tim was rugged, fast. He was a star football player until he dropped out his senior year (later earning his GED). He loved football.

“His coach was furious because Timmy was one of the star players … when he was little, it was always with Darrell, throwing the football, throwing the football, throwing the football,” said Lana.

“It wasn’t just his appearance. He had a wonderful personality,” said  Merrilee Wilson. Wilson was good friends with Timmy. She met Timmy while scooping ice cream at Goodwin’s in Paris. Wilson said Willard was her friend when she needed it most.

“It sometimes seems there are very few people that come into your life who don’t have some sort of agenda or want something … Tim was one of those few people that has graced my life along the way who was just a good-hearted soul. He didn’t want anything in return … he just had a huge heart,” said Wilson.

Lana said it wasn’t uncommon for Timmy to bring around a horse he was keeping to the house for his nieces to ride; one day, Timmy showed up, unannounced, with a horse and buggy for the kids to ride.

And Timmy brought that same kindheartedness to his work as a police officer. According to Herrick, Timmy was the embodiment of a “community” officer in the field for the right reasons.

“He was a young guy, but he understood people. He was very much a young man with his family, mom, brother … a good fit for a small-town police department … the town was looking for a good quality person, the opportunity knocked for them and for him,” said Herrick.

On Dec. 29, 1978, Willard was embodying that same conscientious policing when he responded to a call that Norman Day, 51, of Norway was climbing into an employee’s car at the former O.D.V Inc. manufacturing plant on Swallow Road.

According to Lana, Timmy had picked Day up a few times, had a problem with him that morning. Normally, conflicts with Day were resolved by putting him in the “clink” and letting him sober up. According to Lana, Timmy probably figured that this encounter would go the same way. Timmy was supposed to have a partner with him, but probably figured he didn’t need one.

Unknown to Timmy, Day had bought a gun earlier in the day. Day hadn’t had one before. Day shot Willard as he was getting out of his cruiser. According to a report by the Portland Press Herald, Willard never pulled his gun at Day. In fact, according to the Dec. 31 article, in the five months Willard was a police officer, he had never drawn his gun on anyone.

Day began firing shots at the company door. Robert B. Carroll, president of the plant, fatally shot Day. Former Deputy Attorney General Richard Cohen said Carroll acted in self-defense and Carroll was never charged.

More than 300 police from all over the Northeast crammed into the First Congregational Church in Paris. It was a dreary, rainy day. The line extended up the sidewalk, and into the street. A few dozen police officers proceeded through town; stores were closed, and in the area surrounding the church people stood silently on their front porches.

“It sent shock waves throughout the community and throughout the state. This was 1978 … it was a long time ago, we hear about it more frequently now, but back then it was a sad moment for the Oxford Hills area and certainly his family … it was just an awful, awful thing,” said Herrick.

“I don’t think this town will ever get over this,” Alton Howe, who was elected Oxford County Sheriff in 1972 said in a Press Herald article about Willard’s funeral.

“I don’t know who remembers and who doesn’t remember, but it certainly had a profound impact on me through all of my life,” Wilson said.

Herrick said if Timmy would have become a fine officer if he had the chance to continue to serve. But Willard’s sacrifice helped Justin Cummings, of Woodstock, become an officer.

Justin Cummings graduated from the Police Academy in December and returned to his hometown, Oxford, as a full-time patrolman. He never met Timothy Willard, but said Willard helped inspire him to become a police officer.

In 2009, Cummings was an Eagle Scout, and needed to fulfill his community service requirements. At the time, the sign for the Timothy L. Willard Memorial Field on Tremont Street was weathered and had seen better days. Cummings replaced the sign with a granite memorial and plaque.

“I was interested in law enforcement before I found that … but when it got brought to my attention, it was instant. I was going to do that (go into law enforcement) … I knew it was going to be a long process and a lot of work, but I had no doubt in my mind,” said Cummings. During his project, Cummings met people who remembered Tim.

“I ran into several people who knew him … I looked into the incident that happened in Paris, and it was eye-opening running into people that knew him who said what a great guy he was and what he did for the community. It encouraged me,” said Cummings.

Timothy Willard, center, poses with family members in an undated photograph.

 

 


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