On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 3, Wilton Police announced that one of their own, Sgt. Thomas “TJ” Tunney, who had been waging a battle against cancer, had passed away.
The department posted its announcement on the WPD Facebook page. “It is with heavy heart that the Wilton Police Department announce[s] the passing of Sergeant Thomas ‘TJ’ Tunney. He was a long time member of the Wilton Police Department and served with dedication. May he rest in peace.”
Tunney, who served 31 years on Wilton’s force, had been battling cancer. Most recently, the Wilton Police Benevolent Association (PBA) Established a fund to help Tunney and his family handle any financial obligations that arose as a result of his illness. They also scheduled a benefit dinner on Thursday, Jan. 7 to support Tunney and help pay for any expenses. The dinner will now be a celebration of Tunney’s life, and all monies raised will go toward assisting with funeral expenses (with anything remaining donated to a cause chosen by Tunney’s family). [For details on how to attend, see the end of the article.]
Tunney was named Wilton’s Officer of the Year in 2013. He received the New England Chiefs of Police Medal of Valor as well as the American Red Cross Community Hero award that same year. Those distinctions came after a heroic rescue Tunney made at the scene of a car accident on Hurlbutt Street, during which Tunney pulled a man from a crashed car that was engulfed in flames.
In 2008 Tunney and two other police officers helped deliver a baby in the parking lot of Splash Car Wash.
Sgt. David Hartman, the president of the Wilton PBA, tells GMW.com how special Tunney was.
“TJ was a very special man, Officer and friend who gave so much to so many. He truly was the kind of person anyone would want responding to assist during their darkest times as he cared for people and always tried to help. What I have learned over these last few weeks of fundraising is that many of the people he helped became friends for life. TJ made a positive difference in the lives of the people he met and helped. I remember one time, when he was training me 17 years ago, we picked up a homeless person walking down RT7 in the late night hours. The person was cold, tired and hungry and did not wish to go to a shelter. We transported him to Dunkin Donuts. TJ walked the man inside to get him settled and I remember TJ asking him if he was going to get something to eat. The man stated that he did not have any money. TJ walked him to the counter and told him to order whatever he wanted to eat. The man not knowing what to make of the situation ordered just a sandwich and drink. TJ took his own money out of his pocket and bought the man the food. The man was thankful as he was very hungry. TJ showed the man compassion and showed me a life lesson at the same time, that you don’t need to wait to be sent on a call to be able to make a positive difference in someone’s life as a police officer. This is only one story of so many but is a great reflection of the type of person he was.
“The people of Wilton and this department have lost a genuinely good soul. I will miss my mentor, brother and friend. May he rest in peace.
“I also would like to personally thank the Wilton community for their support of TJ. This would not have been possible without them. I have been amazed at the support and generosity that has been shown. It is heartwarming.”
Wilton’s first selectman Lynne Vanderslice emailed her thoughts upon hearing the news yesterday afternoon.
“I speak for all Wilton residents when I say my prayers and condolences go out to his family and friends and to all the members of the Wilton Police Department. Sgt. Tunney was much respected and appreciated by those he heroically helped and the entire community he served.”
Indeed, the much-decorated officer was remembered by dozens of Wilton residents, co-workers, friends and others on Facebook last night, with many calling him a “great man” and several thanking him for his service and contributions to the Wilton community. The Wilton Police Department’s post was shared on Facebook more than 140 times by press time last night, with many comments reflecting on Tunney’s special way with teenagers and the care he took with Wilton’s children.
Wilton’s former police chief Michael Lombardo posted a comment on the Wilton PD’s Facebook page, saying, “Sergeant Tunney will be greatly missed and certainly one who will be in our hearts forever. He was a great person.”
All are welcome to attend the benefit dinner being held this Thursday, Jan. 7 will be at 6 p.m. at the Ponus Yacht Club in Stamford. Anyone who would like to attend should contact Lt. Robert Cippola or Sgt. Hartman (David.Hartman@WiltonCT.org) at the Wilton Police Department (203.834.6260). Tickets can be purchased for $40 per person, which will include a buffet dinner. The PBA will also be selling shirts and raffle tickets. A head count is needed by tonight even if individuals plan to get tickets at the door.
Donations by check can also be made to the Wilton Police Benevolent Association with a notation of “TJ” in the memo section. Donations can be sent or delivered to the Wilton Police Department, 240 Danbury Rd., Wilton.