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By Brittni Henderson
Earlier this year, my father John gracefully retired from the Providence Police Department after 20 years of service. For all of us, it was a weird and confusing concept to think of Dad as anything else but a police officer—he was made for the job. My father is the type of person who can walk into a room and either instantly know someone or make a lifelong friend. I have always looked up to his outgoing nature, ambitious work ethic, and even stronger family values. When he retired, I knew it was his time to rest, relax, and spend time doing other things—but it also allowed me to take a moment to reflect on his career, his accomplishments, and the way he helped mold me into the woman that I am today.
After years of hearing stories from the Henderson side of the family, I’ve learned that my dad and his siblings grew up humbly in a small apartment in Providence with my late grandparents. The three Henderson children grew up to live different lives, especially my middle child father. One of the most poignant stories that gets revisited every holiday, is the one where my grandmother and Father decided to simultaneously change their lives for the better. My grandmother checked herself into an alcohol rehabilitation center and my father decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps to change the path on which his life was heading.
This story constantly motivates me to remember that the fate of my life lies in my own two hands. As an adult, hearing this story again and again inspires me to be better. I grew up with practically everything I ever wanted, something my dad and his family didn’t have. I faced no hardships, lived in a warm and welcoming home, and was given every single opportunity there is to have. I am grateful for the experiences and choices of not only my father, but also his entire family.
My father was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1987, and worked for the State of Rhode Island at the North Central Airport in Lincoln. After leaving this position, he worked at the University of Rhode Island in Campus Security. Both of my parents always worked, but my dad always had more of a “non-standard” work schedule, so we could spend a lot of time together during the day before I went to school.
I remember doing everything with my dad; it was like we were two partners in crime—which my mom would probably say is still true to this day! We would run errands and always get breakfast together at a small diner in North Providence. I will never forget that. Flash-forward to my twenties (and now thirties), we still meet up for breakfast once in a while, but at a different café in Providence. It’s a minute memory in the grand scheme of things, but to me it will always be something I hold close to my heart.
Just a few years after I moved to Smithfield, my father was sworn in to service as a Patrolman on the Providence Police Department. I remember thinking how cool it was to have a dad who was a police officer. I was proud to know that my father would be helping people and working a job that would make such an impact on other human beings. In retrospect, I never realized how this really affected the career choices that I would make. I have always been drawn to jobs like this. I watched the way he would interact with people, as he has such an easy time meeting new people. He would be become a role model for the person I became as an adult.
After being on the job in Providence for about two years, the tragic events of September 11, 2001 took place in New York City. A few days after the horrific incidents, the Providence Police Department chose a handful of officers to travel to NYC to assist the New York Police Department. My dad was one of those chosen, and he spent time in the city being a helping hand with the grueling process of bringing light back into the city. I was only 12 years old at the time, but old enough to understand that this would be a turning point for everyone. I’ve seen photos of my dad’s time at Ground Zero, but will never understand what my dad and the other officers felt being there at such a crucial time in American history. I do know that it continued to solidify the every-growing inspiration that my father has been to me my entire life.
For the rest of his career, my dad continued to work hard and remain positive, even as the climate around law enforcement began to change. He received many awards and commendations, including the prestigious Chief’s Award and recognition for numerous firearms and narcotics arrests. He was a certified instructor in the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course in the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy and a Field Training Officer for the PPD.
Although I know that my dad worked hard to maintain a positive reputation for law enforcement officers, I also know that there have been some who did not. While this job was legitimately perfect for my dad, it was the right time for him to retire. With all of the influence and inspiration he brought me, there was also the fear of getting a call late at night that he was injured, or worse. My hope is that the climate around law enforcement changes soon. He will always inspire me to be a better person, so I hope his career will be a reminder that there is still good in this profession.
To my dad John, thank you so much for everything for Derek, Mom, Brady, and me. We love you so much. Continue being that friendly, outgoing, motivated, and strong person I’ve known for thirty years.
Love. Your best friend Brittni