EULOGY FOR SYDNEY NORMAN ("SYD") BROWN
Given at his funeral, February 5, 2011, at the Ratz-Bechtel Funeral Home, Kitchener, Ontario. Syd Brown (1925-2011) was Chief of Police in the Region of Waterloo from 1977 to 1986, though he actually occupied the office only from 1977 to 1979. Published on the web in 2011 in the Tributes section of the K. Westhues Homepage.
When Syd’s wife Diane and his longtime friend John Powers asked me to speak at our gathering for Syd today, I was honoured to accept, having consulted regularly with him over the past two years as he hammered out his almost 300-page autobiography. I’m sorry the book is not yet published. It will be in due course.
Would Diane and John, Chief Torigian and the other dignitaries and police officers here today please not take offense if I address mainly Syd’s grandchildren, step-grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the coming generation that knew their Grandpa in a family context but are too young to have witnessed personally his role in the public affairs of this region, province, and country.
You should know that 40 years ago, your Grandpa was probably the most famous cop in Canada. This was not just because of the presidencies he was elected to of the police associations of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the free world. It was because in these positions he led a flamboyant public campaign for higher pay, improved safety, and better working conditions for the police. I was glad to see displayed here in the funeral home the June 1969 issue of Toronto Life magazine, with Syd Brown on the cover, sitting on the sidewalk in his uniform, holding a tin cup in his outstretched hand, with a placard around his neck that read, “Please Give Generously.”
When the news broke that Syd Brown was leaving the Toronto police, one can imagine the sigh of relief among the brass – but then their gasp at the further news that as of January 1977, he would be Chief of Police in the Region of Waterloo.
Everybody knows the historical fact that two years after becoming Chief in this Region, Syd Brown was fired. May his grandchildren and all of us remember two further historical facts. First, that one year after Syd became Chief, the Police Commission was so pleased with his reforms that it cut his period of probation short and made his appointment permanent. And second, that after years of legal wrangling, when the chips were down, the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that Chief Brown had been wrongly fired, and it reinstated him to his job – a practical impossibility by then, but for your Grandpa, the greatest moral victory of his life.
What was it about this gentle, dutiful, conservative, friendly officer of the law that got him so often in trouble? Why did controversy seem to follow him around? Part of the answer is that human equality was not, for Syd Brown, an abstract principle. It was second nature, bred into him by parents of modest means, nourished by his upbringing in Cabbagetown, further strengthened by his service as an ordinary seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II and his postwar job as a busdriver for the TTC and Gray Coach Lines. He disliked bowing and scraping. A mentality of hierarchy, with people arranged from the high and mighty on pedestals down to ordinary mortals, did not fit well in Syd’s brain. He could see, of course, that life is sometimes arranged that way. He just didn’t take it seriously. He figured everybody should just do their job, without whining or grovelling, also without preening or lording it over somebody else.
Let one story from Syd’s book illustrate the point. It’s from the late 1950s, when Syd was a rookie cop walking the night beat in Toronto.
His orders were to stand, in the early morning at the end of his shift, in the middle of a particular busy intersection, wearing a pair of snow-white cloth gloves, and to direct the morning rush-hour traffic. There, in the middle of that intersection, he was to keep his eye out for the chauffeur-driven car bringing the Chief of Police to work. And when the Chief’s car approached, Constable Syd was to halt all other traffic, turn and face the Chief’s car, come to attention, and salute.
This order stuck in Syd’s craw. Why should I favour the Chief of Police, he asked himself, over the hundreds of other law-abiding motorists anxious to get to work? “In my mind, they were all taxpayers, and they deserved the equality of police protection and service.”
Syd followed his orders, but he forgot to wear the white gloves, instead directed traffic bare-handed as at any other intersection. In addition, he let the heavy cross-traffic clear before allowing cars coming from the Chief’s direction to pass through. And for the sake of safety, he turned so that the flow of cars that included the Chief’s passed behind him, which meant he couldn’t notice the Chief’s car, much less come to attention and salute.
Syd was given a dressing down – and a fresh pair of white gloves. But over and over, he had trouble following that particular order. By the time he got elevated from street beat duty, he recalled, he had in his locker ten or twelve pairs of unused white gloves.
Syd is generous in his autobiography toward all his workmates, including pompous ones like that Toronto chief, including even the workmates who ganged up and sabotaged his career here in Waterloo. I think the worst name he calls any of those who made themselves his adversaries is hero – as in, “Look at what our hero did next.” Syd’s book shows in a thousand ways visceral commitment to human dignity and rights, to the public accountability of public servants, and to a democratic value on equality.
ritish essayist G. K. Chesterton wrote that all men are ordinary, that the extraordinary men are those who know it. Syd Brown, your Grandpa, was one of Chesterton’s extraordinary men.