By Steve Hubrecht
All great Canadian moustaches or more accurately, those that sport them must step down from the line of duty at some point.
Hal Johnsons upper lip whiskers no longer grace national television with 90-second Body Break segments; Chris Hadfields glorious cookieduster is no longer in orbit aboard the International Space Station; and, as of this week, the valleys own most prominent moustache that of Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sergeant Marko Shehovac will retire, along with the local police detachment commander.
For the man known up and down the valley simply as Marko (referring to him as Staff Sgt. Shehovac in his send-off story would just be plain wrong), its been a long career four decades of service, including a combined 20 years in Invermere and Golden.
Retirement has been on my mind for the last two years, but the community here made that decision hard and it was easy to just keep going. I still have mixed feelings. Im going to miss a great deal, Marko told The Pioneer. The highlight has always been my relationship with community. Both Invermere and Golden. I enjoy that when I arrive on a scene; Im not just a police officer showing up or Staff Sgt. Shehovac showing up. Its Markos here. It takes years to build up that level of respect and trust.
The road to being a staff sergeant began in the 1970s in Sudbury, Ontario and the trademark moustache began not long after, sometime around 1978 or 1979, making its service almost as long as Markos.Every cop should have a moustache and drink coffee. You shouldnt trust one that doesnt, he said, adding he has only shaved it off once, for Movember, on a promise after his detachment meet a high fundraising target.
Marko grew up in Sudbury, where his father worked at Inco (the giant nickel mining company), and where Marko worked after finishing a year of law and security at college, while waiting to hear back on his applications to various police forces.
My father never understood my desire to be a police officer; he kept telling me I could make a lot more money working for Inco said Marko. But I would be in Inco and Id look out the window and see a police cruiser going by and I realized that I was stuck in one corner, while they were actually out there doing something. I was in a building, but the whole community was where they worked.
It was the RCMP that called him back first with a job offer. He accepted and, after training in Regina, he took a posting in Montreal, just in time for the airtight security operations of the 1976 Summer Olympics (organizers were worried about a repeat of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attacks), followed by stints in Agassiz, Maple Ridge (where he met and, in 1978, married his wife Bev), Rossland (where the couples son Pero was born in 1990), and Salmon Arm. In 1996, he became the second in command at the Golden detachment. Eventually, he became the commander in Golden and then took over as staff sergeant of the Columbia Valley Detachment in Invermere in 2009.
At many of his postings, Marko was fortunate to mentor under strong leaders Orv Robson, Greg Funk and Bob Allison whom he credits with inspiring him to want to one day become a sergeant and for teaching him the importance of being community-minded (an approach Marko still adheres to). It was the Rossland posting that sold Marko on the Kootenay region.
It was my type of community. There were just four police officers in the detachment and we were all quite involved with the community, he said. It got me hooked on the Kootenay area and on working in a small detachment.
Golden and Invermere proved a great fit for somebody who likes small towns and Marko calls them his best postings by far.
Everybody knows everybody in a small town and they look out for and take care of each other, he said. If you put into the community, the community will give back in return. Thats what Golden and Invermere have done for me. Living in these two places is the greatest life insurance policy I had. I knew if something ever happened to me, that the community would take care of my family. You can have piles of money, but you cant buy support like that.
In particular, Marko has a soft spot for the kids of the Upper Columbia Valley (Its a unique relationship. Every time Im up doing school patrol, they always call me by name.) developed through years of organizing bike donations, detachment open houses, Cram the Cruiser and countless other such initiatives.
As enjoyable as the past four decades have been, there are aspects of the job Marko will be glad to let go of, such as the pettiness he frequently encounters. (It particularly bothers me to watch divorced parent use their kids as bargaining tools in their fights. It happens much more often than youd think.)
Or having to do next-of-kin notifications. (That is the worst part. Especially in a small town when you know the person whose door you are knocking on. No amount of practice will ever make that easier.)
There is an element of danger, too. During Markos four decades of service, 261 police officers (including 91 in the RCMP) across Canada have been killed in the line of duty.
I met some of them in person, knew them, said Marko. Im fortunate that Ive had a long, healthy career while so many other officers lost their lives.
He almost wasnt so fortunate, having had a close call back when he worked in the Salmon Arm detachment.
During a jewelry store robbery, Marko ended up in a fight with the thief on top of him, and the jewelry store owner (who had jumped in to help Marko) on top of the thief.
Marko went cold when he reached for his gun and realized it was not in his holster. The thief had grabbed it and pointed it at his head, and said he was going to kill him.
I shoved my hand up to get the gun away from my head, just as the gun went off, he said. I was able to grab a hold of the cylinder (of the gun) and hold it. I told Mike (the jewelry store owner) Ive got the cylinder, just keep that gun away from my head. Help is on its way.
Mike was able do that, and help arrived on scene quickly, but Marko acknowledges it was a true life-or-death situation. The store owner later was awarded the highest possible medal for his citizen bravery.
The dangerous and saddening side of police work has never been enough to extinguish Markos unflagging sense of humour and loyal Pioneer readers are well aware of the hilarious anecdotes that work their way into Markos weekly RCMP reports. (The most risky ones are the ones that include Bev. Im really fortunate she also has a sense of humour.) These stories have not only catapulted Marko into Most Popular Pioneer Columnist status, but have also served to help the community get to know him.
Part of the reason for the stories is that the people in Golden had 13 years to get to know me. I knew I wouldnt have that long here, but I still wanted the people to know who I am, that Im human and that police work is not all doom and gloom. Its important in this job to be able to make fun of your own mistakes, he said. Humour is also a way of coping. We see so many negative and traumatic things crib deaths, accidents, assault that you have to retain the ability to laugh at the lighter stuff. Otherwise, you wont last.
But although its time to hang up his badge, Marko promises it wont be the last the valley sees of him.
I plan to stay involved with the community through volunteer work, he said, adding hes looking forward to moving back up to Golden for what he termed a more normal family life, after seven years of Bev being in Golden full-time with Marko going back and forth between there and the couples Radium Hot Spring condominium.
Bev has a list of things for me to do at home that has started to turn into a novel. Shes made it clear that Im not just going to sit around, he said. Shes made many sacrifices for my career, always leaving her job and moving every time I got a new posting. I always told her when we retire, she would call the shots. And she will. Its going to be strange, because Im going to go from being in charge (of the RCMP detachment) to being the third in command, behind my wife and dog, in my own household.
And, as Pioneer readers are sure to already know, Marko plans to spend a good deal of time in the coming years fishing in his prized boat. Indeed, hes already got a trip booked (a gift from Bev) to a fly-in fishing camp in northern Saskatchewan.
Although Marko may be leaving the RCMP, it seems the RCMP will never fully leave him. It was his dream since before high school graduation, and his career ever since. He still feels a sense of awe when seeing other officers in the red serge (the traditional RCMP uniform) in certain situations.
It really hits me in regimental funerals or in the RCMP Musical Ride, he said. That has always given me perspective this is what I am and who I am. And Im proud of it.
Markos last official day of work is today, Friday, March 4th.