Scraggly or bushy, full or patchy, all the beards grown by Town of Tonawanda police over the last six months had one thing in common no matter how they turned out – support for one of their own.
Eighty personnel, including dispatchers, paramedics and even female officers, joined the department-wide effort by pitching in $50 each for Officer Tim Day, who needs a heart transplant.
“I’m overwhelmed by the show of support,” said Day, 46, who was present Friday for a judging of the results of their pogonotrophy – a fancy way of saying they were cultivating some facial hair
Detective Kevin Sweeney was chosen by Day’s wife, Sherry Brinser-Day, in the category of “most Tim-like” for his uncanny resemblance to Day, especially with their eyeglasses on, which Sweeney took as a compliment.
“The heart that he does have is very good because he’s keeping his spirits up,” Sweeney said of Day. “He’s always been a good guy, and it’s good to do something for him and his family.”
“Most colorful” went to Officer Christopher Franco for his salt-and-pepper-streaked whiskers. And “best groomed” was a tie between Officer Joseph LoBrutto and Detective Bill Fleming, who jokingly described his beard as “majestic.”
“I like a beard,” Fleming said. “If I could have a beard all the time, I would. I’m always pushing for beard contests whenever there’s a good cause.”
In fact, the department has a history of beard contests going back to the U.S. bicentennial in 1976, he said. The Town of Tonawanda Police Club often asks for an exemption from the department’s normal grooming standards to raise money for a charitable cause, he added.
“Our chief now is pretty flexible with it,” Fleming said.
A department directive on facial hair from 2008 bans full beards and allows only “neatly trimmed” goatees so that a tight seal can be formed when officers wear their gas masks. Goateed Police Chief Anthony J. Palombo said back in May that he was immediately supportive of relaxing the regulation for Day and was impressed by the new looks. Officers will be back to clean-shaven by the end of the month but may do it again next year, he said.
“I don’t grow a full beard, because it looks horrible,” Palombo said. “But a couple of them look really good.”
Unyts was also on hand for a blood drive and to encourage organ donation registration – two causes important to Day. Many department personnel, including Palombo, donated.
Day’s heart was ravaged by an autoimmune disease. Despite some respiratory issues that caused him to be readmitted to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester earlier this month, Day said he’s “feeling pretty good now” as he goes through cardiac rehabilitation at Sisters Hospital.
“Hopefully once I get through that they’ll allow me to come back to work on a limited basis initially,” he said.
Brinser-Day jumped in to add, “Why wouldn’t you want to come back to work with these guys?”