EAST PROVIDENCE — Newport Police Officer Christopher Ian McGregor looked out at the dispersing crowd, those folks who had gathered to forever memorialize his dad late Tuesday morning.
He then perused the mammoth plaque hanging to the right of the stairs leading to the front entry to the East Providence Police Department.
It read: Major Alister C. McGregor Public Safety Complex.
“It's hard to say what I'm feeling; I guess it's every emotion possible,” offered Ian McGregor, one of five children born to Alister and Brooke McGregor, after a ceremony that officially dedicated the station to the deceased 16-year veteran of the department. “To have a public safety complex named after you is pretty much the pinnacle for any police officer who's ever lived.
“I was excited when I heard about it, and I know (the idea of honoring him) has been in the works for quite a while,” he continued. “Ten years is a pretty long time, and I'm very happy it happened (Tuesday). It's not snowing or raining, so that's always good.”
Over 100 family members, friends and fellow police officers gathered near those steps to hear several speakers explain their feelings for McGregor, who 10 years before — nearly to the hour — was killed while conducting a training exercise with the EPPD Special Reaction Team.
That exercise, held two days after Christmas 2001, included a scenario that involved a hostage situation on a school bus. McGregor, then a captain, was on that bus when he was shot by a fellow officer's sniper rifle.
According to newspaper reports, the officer had failed to clear the weapon of live ammunition before conducting a dry-fire.
The ceremony began with remarks from retired EPPD Capt. Walter Barlow, then a Presentation of the Colors by the East Providence, State and Seekonk Police Honor Guards. Following the national anthem and EPPD Chaplain Greg Carpenter's invocation, Mayor Bruce Rogers walked to the podium.
“I'm honored to stand here today on behalf of the some 47,000 citizens of East Providence, and those of us who are here to honor and recognize this fallen hero who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he stated. “To his family, my heart is with you, and I hope this ceremony is somehow of comfort to you.
“I hope that as people drive by or come here to conduct everyday business, they see this plaque and pause and reflect,” he added. “I hope they read Maj. McGregor's name and think of the tremendous influences he had on the department, his family, all of us. His honor and sacrifice is way beyond the words 'Thank you' can convey.”
Det. Cpl. Kevin Feeney, President of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Lodge 569, mentioned he had been quite close to the elder McGregor for decades, and that his parents actually sponsored McGregor's folks so they could come to this country from their native Scotland.
“Al and I were not only fellow officers of the East Providence Police Department but also lifelong friends,” Feeney said. “I grew up with Al, though he was a few years older than me … I looked at him as a family friend and role model.
“Ten years ago today was one of the most devastating days of my life. There isn't a more fitting place to honor Alister McGregor than the East Providence Police Department. I feel we're here to honor how this man lived, a man of honor and integrity.”
He also noted this station always has been a “house of service and protection,” and no one epitomized that more than McGregor.
EPPD Patrol Officer Paul Rodrigues, who also serves as Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 President, stated he loved – and loves – McGregor like a brother.
“Most of us never forget significant moments in our lives that saddened us, and burnt images into our minds,” he said. “Whether it be the Challenger space shuttle disaster in January of 1986, the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 or (the date) Dec. 27, 2001, when the city of East Providence lost one of their own.
“Maj. Alister McGregor was a dedicated husband, father, co-worker and mentor,” he continued. “A big part of the East Providence Police Department was taken away from us on that date. Today, 10 years later, we rightfully dedicate this building, our police station, to the most deserving man I have ever known.”
Some members of his family – including his sister, Eileen Pereira, wife Brooke (a retired EPPD Detective Corporal) and five sons, among them Ian, Clifford (Middletown police officer), Derek (Naval Security), Cam (who plays hockey for Barrington Middle School) and Troy Ruggiero (Barrington Eagles youth football) – teared up at Rodrigues' words.
Seconds later, they chuckled at his close.
“Major McGregor would be disappointed in me if I did not publicly congratulate his Chicago Blackhawks for beating my Philadelphia Flyers two years ago in the Stanley Cup finals,” he grinned. “So 'Congrats, Al!' You win the bet! I'll see you when I see you.”
Stated son Ian: “That tragic day will live with us forever, but moments like these help to ease the pain. Since my father's death, over 14,000 police officers have lost their lives, and that fact sends chills up my spine … I know my father would be very proud of this.”
McGregor had become an EPPD captain shortly before his death, but posthumously was promoted to major. He had been an Air Force veteran and served on the Reno (Nev.) Police Department prior to returning to his hometown.
He also was a state expert on the use of deadly force, and developed policies and procedures for responding to school shootings, those that are still being taught in Rhode Island police agencies. He dedicated his life to protecting our greatest treasure – our children, Barlow said.
According to the family's scholarship Web site, “Capt. McGregor was a scholar, outdoorsman and great hockey player who took his lumps as goalie in the department's Thursday Night League. He was a graduate of Roger Williams University who, at the time of his passing, was enrolled as a post-graduate student.
“He was a proud man who loved his family and his heritage; it was HIS Scotland,” it added.
Rogers indicated his dad had spent 33 years on the E.P. police force, and his uncle 37, “so there's a lot of pride I have in this department. It's the best department in the state, as far as I'm concerned. I'm very proud of the work they do.
“I thought Maj. McGregor was a great public servant and a very compromising man; not only do you have to be tough but show compassion as well,” he continued. “That shows the kind of outstanding man he was.”
Rogers mentioned Barlow had approached him about doing something to memorialize McGregor in June.
“I wanted to do something to raise money for his scholarship fund; we have the golf tournament at Agawam Hunt every September, but we ran out of time to do something then,” Barlow said. “The mayor called me back and said he had formed a commission (consisting of Rogers, Barlow, Lt. Armen Garo, retired Det. Cpl. John Rossi and Candy Seel) in late September.
“This mean a whole lot to me,” he added. “His death really impacted our whole police department. I always felt if we did something like this to honor Al, it would help our department move forward. We were very tight. Remember, this department isn't that big, so when you spend a few years together, you get close.
“Everyone here was close to him; that's why so many people wanted to be a part of this.”
Police Chief Joseph Tavares called the dedication a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man and hard-working, devoted officer.
“This plaque will serve as a reminder to those who knew him and a definition of an amazing person to those who didn't,” he explained. “I had the pleasure of meeting Al many years ago at a 'use of force' seminar, back when I was a Warwick police officer. When he spoke, I found him to be a class act and a true professional.
“When I became the chief here, I heard all the stories, and I learned about him,” he added. “This is a very fitting tribute to him. I didn't know him personally, but I did professionally; you look at what he's left here. His wife, his phenomenal sons. To me, I've always felt you are who your friends and family members are. His fine, fine family is what Al was.
“They're all a testament to him. When you live a life as Maj. McGregor did, you never really die. You live on in the dedication of this building, and also the people who remain.”
Donations to the Maj. Alister C. McGregor Endowment Scholarship Fund are graciously accepted. This permanently-endowed scholarship was created by the McGregor family and Roger Williams University to provide educational assistance to the children of police officers who have been slain in the line of duty.
For more information, visit http://mcgregormemorial.org .