After 32 years and 12 days on the job, retiring Newburyport police officer Edward Rice has never fired his police-issued handgun at another person. But he has helped deliver another person into this world.
The year was 1987, and Rice, who is known to much of Newburyport as "Teddy," was responding to a medical aid call on Monroe Street. When he arrived, he saw a woman on the kitchen floor in the process of giving birth. With no time to do anything other than rush to her aid, Rice ran over and helped make sure the baby was healthy when delivered. It was touch and go for a minute, as the baby was a sickly purple color after leaving her mother. But after helping remove mucus from the baby girl's nose and mouth, she let out a blood-curdling scream and her skin turned a healthy color.
Almost 24 years later, at the age of 56, Rice is turning in his badge and barely used sidearm Saturday.
"Yeah, I'll miss it. I'll miss the part of walking the beat," Rice said during an interview inside the Green Street police station earlier this week.
Rice said he was especially proud of his ability to become a trusted face in the community as he got to know shopkeepers, residents and those visiting the city he loves. He also spoke of how it was important for him to show respect to all those he came in contact with, even prisoners.
"I always tried to do my job trying to be as fair to the person as you can, give them a little dignity," Rice said. "I've made numerous friends over the years, even those I arrested."
While some of those he arrested may have respected his kindness, generations of Newburyport children have looked up to Rice as the friendly face of the Newburyport Police Department. Such affection was on display early last month during the Yankee Homecoming bed race down Federal Street.
Riding the department's motorcycle that day, Rice served as the point leader each time a team came rambling down the pedestrian-clogged road. After each team finished its run, Rice would turn his bike around and roar back up the street. Dozens of children on both sides of the street would reach out their hands, hoping Rice would slap them five. Adults also got into the act, cheering his name loudly as he drove past them.
"I'll never forget that — that was a lot of fun," Rice said.
A bachelor, Rice lives in Amesbury but grew up on Long Island, N.Y., before moving up to the Greater Newburyport region in 1969. He served in the Army from 1974 to 1977 and was stationed at several continental U.S. bases, along with a stint in Alaska and Germany. In 1978, he passed the Civil Service exam and became a reserve police officer in 1979. He was laid off for roughly a year due to budget cuts, but when another job became available, Rice was rehired.
For his first decade, Rice worked the midnight shift. But for the last 22 years, Rice has worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, making him a familiar face to all those who frequent the downtown area. For many years, he served on the department's honor guard and was the department's firearms license renewal officer for several years, conducting background checks on applicants before their licenses were renewed by the city marshal.
Current City Marshal Thomas Howard said Rice's experience will be sorely missed within the department.
"We all know you can't buy experience — it comes with the job," Howard said.
Howard went on to praise Rice's ability to embrace community policing to its most optimum level and said Rice had an infectious compassion for people.
"It's that kind of officer that brings the community to us," Howard said.
Asked what he plans to do with his free time, Rice said he had a laundry list of home improvement projects to tackle, along with a couple cars he'd like to fix up. He also plans to do some traveling and spend more time with his family. Besides his mother, Peg, he has four sisters — Noreen, Susie, Meg, Beth.
"My family has been my support for a lot of things here," Rice said.
And it is his family that has arranged his bon voyage party scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Newburyport Elks Lodge. Rice said he was looking forward to his retirement party but hedged when asked if it might be an emotional evening.
"I'm not sitting here with nervous butterflies thinking I'm not going to make it (without tearing up)," Rice said.
But at least twice during his hourlong interview with a Daily News reporter, Rice seemed to choke up when speaking of his final days as arguably Newburyport's most recognized and beloved officer.