John Downer

John T. Downer

Wednesday, November 11th, 1914 - Saturday, February 16th, 2019
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Published from an article on John a few years ago when he turned 100 years old by the Pulaski Association.

Lifetime Member John Downer
by Catherine Jay
Lifetime Member John Downer is a happy anomaly in the Pulaski membership, not only because of his retired rank as deputy chief, or because of his continued loyalty to our organization for over 50 years, or because of his service during World War II: in additions to all of these achievements, John Downer celebrated his 100 birthday last year.

John was born on the Lower East Side in 1914 to parents who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century. He attended Fordham University and later worked as an accountant. In 1938, he took the police and fire department exams with the intent that he would take the first vacancy available. Luckily, the police department called first and he was appointed to this Department in September of 1941.

So why did this college educated man leave the private sector to walk the streets of New York? In 1938, when John first took the civil service exam, the Depression had been in effect for eight years, unemployment was high and wages low, but no one who was employed by the City was laid off (more on that topic in another article). While his parents may have been disappointed at his chosen profession, they would later have a change of heart and I'm sure his many promotions helped.

His entry in the Department was cut short due to the start of World War II. He was deployed to England with the 8th Army Air Force protecting and securing the secret Norden Bombsight project. The Norden was then in development and was being designed to calculate aircraft bombs' downward trajectory based on the current flight conditions with the goal of improving the accuracy of bombing missions. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant and was discharged from the military in 1945.

John had only eight years with the Department when he was promoted to Sergeant in June, 1949; less than three years in the rank of Sergeant when he was promoted to Lieutenant in January, 1952; and only six and a half years in the Lieutenant's rank when he was promoted to Captain in September, 1958. His promotions were unusually quick for his time period; Sergeants then were often promoted around their 10th anniversary, Lieutenants around their 20th anniversary, and Captains later, yet by John's 20th anniversary with the Department he was already a Captain with three years in rank under his belt as well as the 84 Precinct as his command. In August, 1964 he was promoted to Deputy Inspector, two years later he was promoted to Inspector and his final promotion to Deputy Chief Inspector - today's equivalent of Deputy Chief - was in June, 1969.

John worked in a variety of assignments in addition to patrol. In 1966, he was made the commanding officer of the Police Academy and during an interview he gave at that time he described the curriculum taught to police recruits and the communities they would serve as "...emphasizing courtesy and the recognition of individual and civil rights."

I wonder if an incident that occurred while John was the 70 desk officer made him think of the value of simple courtesy. Sometime between 1952 to 1955, John remembers an incident involving Joey Gallo, a New York City gangster in what would later become the Colombo crime family. Joey's brother had parked his automobile at a hydrant and refused to move it, and became involved in a war of words with the cop on post. The situation escalated and the brother was arrested and brought to the station house where Joey soon showed up demanding to know what had happened. His brother told him: "This f****** cop told me to move the car!" At which point Joey slapped him across the face (in front of the desk) and told him: "You talk nice to the officer!" Joey was no doubt a gangster and would be murdered in 1972, yet he understood the minimal cost of extending a courtesy and the resulting positive outcome.

John certainly enjoyed his time in the Department. Where else can one get a front row seat to the mafia providing sensitivity training to family members?

John retired from the Department in the summer of 1973 and worked for the Board of Education for two years hiring and training School Safety agents, and later worked for the American Banknote organization in charge of security until 1977 when he retired for the last time. Although retired, the Department had not yet finished with him: last June, he met with Police Commissioner William Bratton and his wife, and was given the opportunity to tour the Operations Unit. There, he saw the technological advances within the Department that did not exist when he was an active member of the Department.

John fondly remembers the friendly atmosphere of Pulaski meetings as well as the delicious kielbasa that our chef Benny would provide (which Benny is still providing. Thank you Benny, you are legendry!) John and his wife, Louise, as well as their daughters Carol Ann and Mary Louise, attended many of the Pulaski weekends at the Concord Resort as well as Pulaski sponsored European trips including a visit to the Vatican for a Papal Blessing.

Although immigrants, John's parents somehow managed to find the $275.00 per semester to send him to Fordham University during the Depression. I marvel at their tenacity and resourcefulness and I smile because I know firsthand how stubborn the Polish can be with a goal in the horizon. This tenacity and stubbornness gave the Department a gifted and educated leader, shaped by his experiences growing up with his immigrant family and in a City still recovering from the Depression.

After John's appointed to the Department he was making less than $29 dollars a week walking the streets of Manhattan, which is more than the $15.00 a week he was making as an accountant. A year later, he was in England and charged with protecting the newest innovation that could provide the advantage that could win World War II for the Allies. He returned to the Department and eventually climbed the ranks of the retiring as Deputy Chief, and then came back to meet with our Police Commissioner William Bratton.

John's 100th birthday last year was celebrated with family and friends, including his 94 years old little sister who flew in from California and his 88 year old kid brother who came from Massachusetts, in addition his daughters and five grandchildren and other relatives. AT his 99th birthday, he borrowed and modified a quote from Kirk Douglas: "If you can count the number of good friends you have on one hand, you're lucky." I am sure know that John needs both hands and feet and still runs out of digits to count the many people who wish him well.

The traditional Polish birthday salute is "sto lat," (translation: 100 years) but that's not appropriate for this birthday. So I say "dwieście lat" (translation: 200 years).
Dwieście lat John!
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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | 2:00pm - 5:00pm
    Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 2:00pm - 5:00pm
    Michaels Funeral Home, Inc
    79-22 Metropolitan Avenue
    NY 11379
  • Second Visitation

    Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm
    Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 7:00pm - 9:00pm
    Michaels Funeral Home,Inc
    79-22 Metropolitan Avenue
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Service

    Thursday, February 21st, 2019 | 10:45am
    Thursday, February 21st, 2019 10:45am
    St. Margaret R.C.Church
    Corner of Juniper Valley Road & 80th Street
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Interment

    Thursday, February 21st, 2019 | 11:45am
    Thursday, February 21st, 2019 11:45am
    St. John Cemetery
    80-01 Metropolitan Avenue
    Middle Village, NY 11379
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email


  • Army
  • Catholic War Veterans
  • Pulaski Association
  • Distinguished Service Medal
  • European-African- Middle Eastern Service Medal
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • Holy Name Society
  • New York City Police


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Love The Webbs, Mia, Barry and Lauren Shevit, and other have sent flowers to the family of John T. Downer.
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Posted at 05:57pm
To The Downer Family,
Please accept my condolences my thoughts and prayers are with your family


Love The Webbs

Posted at 08:51pm
Wishing you peace to bring comfort, courage to face the days ahead and loving memories to forever hold in your hearts.
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Rich Webb

Posted at 05:46pm
A World War ll veteran and an NYPD veteran you are the greatest generation. Chief Downer we stand and salute you.
God Bless you and God Bless the NYPD.
the Webb family

Mia, Barry and Lauren Shevit

Posted at 02:11pm
With deepest sympathy,
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Michael T., Michael A, Julianne & Alison Caputo &

Posted at 12:35pm
Please accept our most heartfelt sympathies for your loss... Our thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.
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Michael T., Michael A, Julianne & Alison Caputo & purchased flowers for the family of John Downer. Send Flowers


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