By Gavin Keenan
Retired Ipswich Police Officer and local legend Charles Benjamin Schwartz passed away on January 19, 2017. Charlie had struggled with cancer this last year and as he would say, “Gave it as good as I got.” Although I am relieved for him that his suffering has ended, I’m saddened by the passing of not only a member of our old brigade, but an individual who made such an impression on we younger coppers in our early years on the I.P.D.
Charlie went by many names and descriptions in the years I knew him. Sir Charles, C.B, Mr. Schwartz, Chas, Son, Brother, Husband, Paw, C.B.S., Schwartzie, Car 1, Harbor Patrol, Control, Badge One and most notably – “The Man”. Whew, what a list. That’s because Charlie was one of a kind, at least for Ipswich in his particular time. A Garden State German, ten year Navy vet of the Submarine Corps, (ironically known as “the silent service”) Charlie was noted for his Jersey-Philly diction of rolling R’s carried in a deep baritone spiced with a fiery vocabulary fueled by a wicked wit paired with the fastest index finger this side of the Delaware River. Charlie was well equipped and always on-station to right the wrongs, comfort the weak, outwit the fools, insult the snobs, beat the odds and confound his bosses.
I first came to know Charlie one cold Saturday morning in January of 1980. I was a know-nothing reserve working my first paid midnight shift. Sergeant Boley Radzinski was on the desk that night and Charlie was the only full time officer on patrol. When Boley told him that I was his ride along for the night, Charlie scanned me up and down, shook his head and told me that my boots “looked like shit.” He then stepped into the back room and emerged with a 12 gauge Remington shotgun. He handed it to me and when I sheepishly asked what I was to do with it, he replied, “If I tell you, point, pump and pull.” With that, we climbed into Car 1 and began our night of adventure.
While in the Navy, Charlie married Gerry Wile, a local girl. Gerry’s mother was a Gallant, and with that pedigree, Charlie became kin to nearly half the population of Ipswich at the time. He eventually mustered out of the service and the couple moved to town to raise three beautiful children. Charlie started on the Department as an EEA Cadet in the wild and woolly early 1970’s, working thirty day temporary appointments until the Civil Service god blessed him with the full-time permanent nod. By the time I came on, Charlie was a well-seasoned oracle of the midnight shift. For us rookies, being assigned to midnight’s meant working with Charlie under his watchful and wicked scrutiny. It did us no harm and was the only way to experience The Man up close and personal, with extra hot-sauce.
Charlie’s uniform was always immaculate and squared away. His cruiser, Car 1 of course, was always washed, vacuumed and in full working order. He disdained slobs of every kind, and I remember one Fourth of July night when he sat on some jelly beans carelessly left on the driver’s seat by an officer of the evening shift who shall remain nameless. Charlie’s pants, just off the rack from the dry cleaners, were now stained in patriotic red, white and blue sticky candy. Charlie was unhappy. He was angry and verbose. He cursed morons of all descriptions and any vagabond, party animal, disturber of the peace or other miscreant unfortunate enough to encounter Charlie that night received the full wrath of The Man. No one got arrested of course, they just received a full-throttle tongue lashing by the master. This only proves there are worse things than spending a night behind bars.
Charlie worked very hard to support his family. After coming off shift at 8:00 am, he would rush home, change into some work clothes and go to his second job at Andy’s ARCO on Central Street. Charlie liked the interaction he found there, and people got a fill-up in two ways; a tank of gas and Charlie’s thoughts on the matters at hand. A few years later, Charlie switched second jobs and went to work for Paul Beaulieu doing finish carpentry and painting. At the end of the day, he would go home to dinner, catch four or five hours of sleep, and then report back in for duty at midnight.
Gerry Schwartz struggled for years with a cancer that would eventually claim her life during Christmas of 1983. Charlie and his young children were devastated. I’d never seen him so low, yet he managed to come in every night and pull his weight. Charlie had grit, and with time he eventually picked himself up and pushed on to the next chapter in his life. He married again and added to his family. Life went on.
We all had memorable moments of life on the beat with Charlie. Although his approach was not optimal in situations requiring tact, discernment and cool reasoning, he was, without a doubt, the best third man in on any volatile or otherwise prickly encounter. When appeals to reason were met with deaf ears, legal consequences threatened and ignored, you wanted Charlie next to you to up the ante and incentivize the pugnacious, drunk and obnoxious “No” person into compliance with your lawful and just directive.
Some of Charlie’s more famous lines appear below. Context is provided to assist the reader:
- Fair warning to potential trouble makers – “You’re beginning to piss me off, and that is something you don’t want to do!”
- For the wanna-be tough hombre – “I step over better than you to get to where the action is!”
- For the misdirected, maladjusted maker of misdemeanors – “Point you nose toward Essex and your ass toward Rowley and start walking!”
- And as Charlie got older and more philosophical – “I’m old, I’m fat and I’m bad. And you do not want a piece of me!”
I recall a serious incident many years ago involving a man in an apartment who was threatening to kill himself with a knife. The threat was real, the knife was long and the man had already taken a slice or two along his blood-streaked arm. As I swallowed hard wondering what to do, Charlie calmly directed the man to drop the knife. The man refused. Charlie stated his order again, this time with more feeling. Again the man refused. Charlie then brandished his 22” inch police baton (read club) and threatened in a menacing voice to beat the man to within an inch of his life if he did not immediately drop the knife. After a ten second stare down, the knife fell to the ground, the man was hospitalized and two cops went home to their families. Unorthodox? Yes, but Charlie always maintained an unshaken faith in practical responses to complex problems.
Those in the Department who labored under the delusion that they were Charlie’s boss were habitually disappointed. This was compounded when Charlie transitioned from the ground forces to life on the Harbor Patrol. He was cute enough to vociferously complain that working harbors was a hard, impossible task with little or no thanks to be had. But this was just a smokescreen he deployed to dampen competition from any young whipper-snapper who might aspire to the position. Actually, Charlie had landed his dream job, and he knew it. Salt water, pretty girls, sandy beaches, beautiful suntanned women in skimpy swimsuits and friendly boaters offering culinary delights. Did I mention beautiful, suntanned women in skimpy swimsuits? As an added bonus, Charlie was far and away from the nosy eye of would be supervisors.
In the off-season, Charlie would use a month of earned vacation time and visit his folks who were living in Florida. One year, he decided to make the journey by motorcycle. He mailed a suitcase full of his favorite Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts to his mother and on frigid, windy day in late December I watched as Charlie chugged by on his pristine, baby-blue Honda Goldwing. His buddy Chuck Cooper posted an interactive road atlas of Charlie’s journey in the station house. In this way we all learned that when Charlie had reached Connecticut, he had already lost most of the feeling in his hands and legs. He was delayed in Virginia by a blizzard and following a couple of days holed up in a Motel Six, hit the road again. Needless to say, his shorts arrived in the Sunshine State before he did.
Back at work, Charlie would normally opt for a night shift working the desk as he anxiously awaited the arrival of spring. He was a natural as a desk officer; efficient, commanding and ever-ready with a witty retort over the air. His clear, distinctive voice and ability to provide a wealth of information in a detailed, elaborate manner, was known throughout our listening area and beyond. When we made an arrest and brought in a prisoner, he made no bones about letting them know who was boss. Those who began their night in the cell as loud, obnoxious drunks, were, within a scant eight hours, influenced to see life in a whole new way and left in the morning thanking “Mr. Schwartz” for his hospitality and kindness. Many of these folks became great fans of Charlie and remain so to this day.
For as long as I knew Charlie, his plan was to retire to Florida and escape the cold, miserable winters of Massachusetts. In 2007, after thirty-six years in uniform, he finally got his wish. Charlie retired as Badge One, the most senior man in the Department. When he walked out the door for the final time, a big piece of what had made the I.P.D. a special place to work for all those years left with him.
We lost touch for a while after he moved. He kept close with Charlie and Diane Cooper, Teddy and Sue Lemieux and other Ipswich expats in Southwest Florida. He spoke with Guy Saulnier every week for an accurate and unbiased update and would come north once in a while to visit. In Florida he again worked on the water and this led to him meeting a very special woman who would become his wife. In 2012, Charlie married Catherine Crowe and entered a period of quiet and pleasant contentment. This last July, after Charlie’s illness had progressed and his future clouded, he and Cathy came north once again to see Charlie’s friends and share his journey. Cathy staged a wonderful gathering at The Hart House filled with Charlie’s old work buddies, family and friends. We laughed, swapped stories from the past, and later shed a private tear for our old comrade.
When I last spoke to Charlie this past December, his illness had left him bed-ridden. His spirit remained strong, and he told me how grateful he was for the life he had lived and the people he loved. Cathy remained by his side till the end and with Chuck and Diane, will bring Charlie north to Ipswich one final time to be buried next to Gerry.
Like so many of you, I’ve thought about Charlie a lot recently. For all of the ups and downs that he experienced in his world, he kept his chin high and gaze steady. And I think that he managed to have a pretty damn good time in his life. He brought us laughs and we shared laughs. These helped us round off the sharp corners of our own lives, and for this we will be forever grateful. It’s good to have him back home.