PARIS — On Dec. 29, 1978, Lana Willard was helping friends wallpaper an apartment when she got a call that would change her life.

Timothy Willard was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 29, 1978. Willard family photo

Something had happened to her brother-in-law Timmy.  She and her husband, Darrell, rushed to the home of his mother, Grace Willard. From there, Darrell and Grace left for the hospital; Lana remained behind to greet and answer questions from Timmy’s friends, who appeared 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,” Lana said.

What everyone would soon learn was that Timmy Willard, a 22-year-old rookie with 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.

Forty-one years later, family, friends and former law enforcement officers who knew Willard still feel that way. Timmy Willard, they say, was a fine young man who deserves to be remembered for his kind-hearted, gentle disposition and the nature of his sacrifice.

‘HE JUST HAD A HUGE HEART’

Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, former state 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,” Herrick said.

In the past year, Lana Willard has suffered a lot of loss. Her husband, Darrell, Timmy’s older brother, passed away in September at the age of 74. Timmy’s mom passed away in January of last year at the age of 90.

Lana Willard said both were profoundly affected by Timmy’s death. Darrell, who was 11 years older than Timmy, acted like a father, brother and best friend to Timmy, Lana said. She and Darrell were 15 when they started dating, and Timmy tagged along wherever they went.

“I had two ‘boyfriends,’ Timmy and Darrell,” she said. “(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. (His death) was really hard.”

She was alone when the call came from their family doctor 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,” Lana said.

On Jan. 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 the community seemed to be traumatized by such a violent and sudden loss. Some were happy: a newspaper clipping of Timmy raising a barn for a livestock auction 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 this photograph taken sometime in the early 1970s, Willard is seen riding a horse he brought over to his brother and sister-in-law’s house for children to ride. Photo provided by the Willard family

The clippings are 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,” she said. “On the local radio station, a dedication to Timmy from the girls that were having a sleepover … there were a bunch of them. That’s how popular he was.”

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, he was always with Darrell, throwing the football, throwing the football, throwing the football,” Lana said.

“It wasn’t just his appearance. He had a wonderful personality,” said Merrilee Wilson, who was good friends with Timmy. She met him while scooping ice cream at Goodwin’s dairy bar in Paris. Wilson said Timmy 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,” Wilson said.

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

Timmy brought that same kindheartedness to his work as a police officer, people say. According to Herrick, Timmy was the embodiment of a “community” officer working in the profession 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,” Herrick said.

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 and had a problem with him that morning. Normally, conflicts with Day were resolved by putting him in jail 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. He shot Willard as he was getting out of his cruiser. According to a report by the Portland Press Herald, Willard never pulled his gun. 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.

Then 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.

INSPIRING OTHERS

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. 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 (shootings) 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,” Herrick said.

Timothy Willard, second from left, poses with family members in this undated photograph. Willard family photo

“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,” Wilson said recently, “but it certainly had a profound impact on me through all of my life.”

Herrick said Timmy would have become a fine officer if he had the chance to continue to serve. In death, he continued to inspire those around him, even years later, including Justin Cummings of Woodstock.

Cummings graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in December and returned to his hometown of Oxford as a full-time patrolman. He never met 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,” Cummings said.

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,” Cummings said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: