Monday, March 15, 2010

Reflections on Vu Pham

To honour Vu, I am changing the normal order of posts this week and am sharing the eulogy that was delivered at Vu's funeral by Provincial Constable Terri Patterson (Vu’s partner before Constable Dell Mercey became Vu’s last partner)

(I have done my best to transcribe Constable Terri Patterson’s words, and, when not clear on the exact words, to convey their intent. My apologies to Terri for anything I may have misinterpreted.)

This is an honour. I thought I’d cried all the tears I had until I was called and asked to speak today.

I want to give you a glimpse of Vu the man, the police officer; what he was like when he was behind closed doors. Not the cookie cutter that tends to get spoken at times like this. So I thought about what I would say. He was a family man; a good family man; just a general nice guy.

So after I stopped the river of tears and thought about what I would say about Vu, I started reflecting on a few calls we had done with one another when I had first met him; that sort of thing.

I first worked with Vu about five or six years ago. We got switched to the same shift and Dale Brenner (?) was our N.C.O. We were having a shift meeting and afterwards Dale came and spoke to Vu and I and commented that our DARS weren’t done or something equally important.

I think he said, “You can do better.”

I looked at Vu and I told him, “Smarten up.”

Vu looked at me and gave me a quizzical look, and if you knew Vu, he’d look you in the eye and look to the left and to the right and look you back in the face and he said, “Well you smarten up first.”

So he laughed and Dale said, “The pair of you smarten up.”

I think it was at that time we developed a good working bond, a good working relationship that we had.

The man was a man of few words--and not! He loved talking about hunting; the boys and hockey. But in a group setting he was quiet, and because of that, when he came out with something funny it just made it that much more funny because you didn’t expect it to come from Vu.

He was a gentleman first and foremost. He would open a door for me, if we went out for coffee. He’d open the door for any lady that was walking in and as Dell said in his remarks, he didn’t get into the office humour, the office talk like a lot of us do, and shouldn’t, I guess. And he was always polite with people and took the time to listen to them and make them feel important.

And in reflecting upon that I thought about my young son Spencer who plays novice hockey for Blyth, and Penzergast who plays for Wingham. My husband is retired from the O.P.P. and we said that we weren’t going to say anything about what was happening; that the boys were maybe too young to know that not everybody in the world is as nice as they should be.

But a relative phoned, upset and distraught and spoke to Spencer and told him what had happened and he hands the phone to me and he was screaming about someone getting shot.

When I hung up the phone, he asked me what had happened and I explained to him what had happened and he asked specifically after Dell, not knowing that Dell had been there, but that somebody else had been there and he asked if he was okay. While I was talking on the phone he found a newspaper and it was the Toronto Sun and it had a picture of Vu right on the front page.

He looked at it and he says, “That’s the dad of the boy I play against who plays for Wingham.”

And I said, “Yes.”

“Is that the man that got shot?”

And I said, “Yes Spencer it is.”

He got quite upset and he said, “He was a real nice man.”

We had played Wingham on the Friday previous and Vu was running the clock.

And he said, “That man sat in the box and he would always wave at me and give me the thumbs up. And when I spoke with him he would always ask me how I was doing in hockey and if I had really had fun."

Vu hadn’t seen him that often, a couple of shift Christmas parties, but if an 8 year old remembers that kindness, what kind of impact did he have on the community that saw him more?

I’m amazed at how Vu handled himself when someone would come up to us and ask if the O.P.P. still had height requirements. Those of you that know Vu, know that he wasn’t the tallest fellow.

And usually I’d make some remark and say, “You can be as tall as you want.”

A couple of people, usually the clients we dealt with, would keep going at it, trying to get a rise out of Vu and why did we hire somebody that was his height. And he just looked up and he said, “I was lucky that at the time that I applied they were hiring short Asian men. I got the job.”

There were a few shift shuffles; Vu and I got separated and a couple of years after we worked on Dale’s shift we were reunited on Krista Millar’s shift. Vu worked Wingham and I worked Huron East.

For those of you that don’t know the area, Wingham is the north part of Huron County and Huron East is in the east side of the county. ....each one of us had to work our zones alone, relying on one another for back up. If we got busy we’d come down into the other zone and take other’s calls and that’s just the way it was—we’d see one another more than we’d see of any of the other guys.

So two or three years ago Vu was covering Seaforth for me while I was tied up with another investigation and we were getting radioed and he got called to speak to one of our local characters whose name was Doug (I won’t use his last name.)

He wanted to speak to police so Vu went to see him at the Seaforth office; now those of you who know the Seaforth office know that it is about 8 feet wide from the front to the back; not a lot of room. Vu went and did the call; Doug hasn’t drawn too many sober breaths in his life. Doug is 6 foot 3; 240; Vu—not quite. I was at the Huron office, Vu brings him over to process him and it’s all over.

About two weeks later I’m walking down the street and met Doug(you can insert F bombs and swear words) and he said, “Here, I want to talk to you!”

“Yep, what do you want Doug?”

“Who’s that little Ninja cop?”

“Ninja cop?”

“That “little” cop that you got.”

(She threw out a couple of names and Doug said “No,” to both of them, then she figured out that it was Vu Pham and asked why he wanted to know.)

“Oh, tough little guy,” and he didn’t elaborate on it.

I didn’t see Vu that shift but the next night we were having coffee and I said, “What did you do with Doug? He kept calling you a Ninja cop.”

And Vu starts talking and he gets this grin and he says, “Well, I said, ‘Doug you’re going to be under arrest,’

And Doug said, ‘You’re not arresting me.’

And I said, ‘What’s the matter Doug? We’re not going to play this game,’

And Doug said, ‘No,’ and the struggle went back and forth. Next thing Doug’s on his stomach, face down with the cuffs on.

Now Vu being a man of few words, it took me four years to get the whole story. On the 13th of February I was down in Clinton and Vu and I were talking and another officer was there and every time Vu would walk up I would say “Ninja Vu!” or “Scooby Vu” or something like that.

And the other officer said “Why do you call him Ninja Vu?” and I told the story.

Well then Vu elaborated on it and I guess it was a bit of a struggle and Vu ended up flipping him over the shoulder and down on the ground and this is in an 8 foot wide spot and Doug he went down.

I don’t think Vu ever had a problem with Doug and I’d be surprised if Doug wasn’t here today. He had a newfound respect for Ninja Vu.

Huron East has its dead zones, we call them “Seaforth vortex." I got Vu’s cell phone number so I could catch him when we wanted to do coffee. So I texted him a couple of times and said, “Let’s do coffee,” on the day shift.

And being the Smart Alec that I am, I texted him saying, “You don’t love me anymore because you won’t answer me.”

I get a text back saying, “Yeah, he probably still loves you but I have his phone and it’s Heather; I’m in Kitchener.” A case of foot in mouth!

The next night we had coffee and I said, “Vu, I hope I didn’t get you in trouble. Heather could have taken that the wrong way.”

And Vu said, “Aw no, she thought it was funny. She knows I can’t handle the stress of one woman, let alone two.”

So Vu would forget his phone at least once every other block or so and when he went home for lunch he would forget to bring it with him and I’d text him and that kind of started conversations in the middle of the night with Heather. Heather would always answer me. She would never come out for coffee though!

Once when we were in Seaforth again and Vu and I were backing one another up, dispatch called about an unwanted male in Seaforth. Vu was the perfect back up officer. He’d show up, he was quiet; if he saw you were doing something he wouldn’t butt in and try to take over, he just sat and watched and if he saw you needed help he’d step in. So anyways I was dealing with this one fellow and he just didn’t get it and Vu shows up and I gave him a nod and said, “Vu.”

And I said, “Look, you gotta go,” and the guy said, “No.”

With that Vu came out from behind me and said, “Look, you’ll get your stuff and you’ll get out and you’ll do it now.”

And I was looking at Vu, because this was so unlike Vu, telling the guy to get out.

And I said, “Did you have a rush of testosterone or something?”

And he says, “Well you called me Vu.”

And I said, “Well, is there something else you want me to call you? Because that’s your name.”

And he said, “No, anytime I see you, you call me Scooby Vu or Ninja Vu, and when you just called me Vu I knew that your patience was wearing thin so I thought I’d better step in.”

And that was the kind of working relationship that we were able to develop.

We also went to another “unwanted “occurrence sometime after that and Vu was there and we walked in together and a lady answered the door and said, “Oh, you’re alone.”

We did the call and then said, “Let’s stop for coffee,” so we went to Tim Hortons and we walked in and someone said, “Oh, you’re working alone again--or is Vu staying in the car?”

And I said, “No, he’s right there,”

And she said, “Oh, I didn’t see him.”

And so when we were having coffee I said to Vu, “Do you think I need to lose weight? That’s the second time that’s happened.”

Vu was standing as he normally did with his fingers in the side of his pants and his hands on the outside of his pants and he said, “Well; I’m not going to get any taller.”

Sometime about a year and a half, I got put on a different shift and Vu got Dell Mercey as a partner but prior to that, it was close to Christmas, and I said, “What are you getting Heather for Christmas?”

“Aw, I don’t know,” he said, “there’s no rush, it’s only four days away.”

I said, “You know, she’s a nice woman, beautiful, very nice,” I said, “What in the hell does she see in you?”

He looked at me and said, “Terri, there’s more to me than just Ninja moves.”

3 comments:

Susan said...

I'm so glad you're doing this as a series. God knew what he was doing when he put you in the fifth row... He needed a scribe right down there where the action was.

Thank you.

patriciapaddey said...

Belinda - my heart sorrows for Vu and his family - and for you and all the other people whose lives he clearly touched. Thank you for sharing the life and legacy of this man.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I agree with Susan, I'm so glad you have managed to bring us all along .... I feel like I know better the man ... and therefore understand the loss.