In a parking lot close to Panozzo Funeral Home in Chicago Heights on Saturday, Flossmoor Deputy Police Chief Clint Wagner prepared to say good-bye to a friend, Chicago Heights Police Officer Gary Hibbs.
As members of the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society, Wagner and Michael Pulec, retired Flossmoor police chief, played the Irish songs so many love.
Hibbs, a 25-year veteran of the force, died March 12, eight days after he collapsed while on duty responding to a domestic disturbance call.
“I’ve known Gary for about 23 years. We were best friends,” said Wagner. “We’d go camping together. He would dress up as Santa for my son. The guy would do anything in the world for you.”
Wagner and Hibbs met when they both worked at the Chicago Heights Police Department. Pulec knew Hibbs from the neighborhood growing up.
As the flag draped casket was being carried by other police officers, Wagner, Pulec and other members of Emerald Society began to play “Irish Soldier Boy.”
“I bagpiped for Gary’s son Jimmy at his wedding. I’ve been with the family a long time,” Wagner explained. “The family asked us to be here today, so here we are. We wanted to give him a heroes send off.”
Pulec, who worked at the Flossmoor police department for 27 years, said most of the area’s police officers know each other, and a lot of them knew Hibbs.
“We were on the job at the same time together, so I would see him frequently,” said Pulec. “This is tough. A lot of these guys here today I moved up the ranks with. We have all grown our careers together.
“Doing something like this for Gary today from the Emerald Society, this is what we do,” Pulec said. “Gary was always there when you needed him. He was a happy guy, very knowledgeable regarding the job, especially tactical. He always had a smile. I wish I wasn’t here, that Gary was still here.”
More than 120 police cars from departments throughout the area and beyond lined the route through Chicago Heights to St. Kieran Catholic Church.
On Halsted Street, the Chicago Heights and Flossmoor fire departments held a huge American flag in place as the funeral procession passed underneath.
Several police officers and firefighters were on Halsted, including Flossmoor Fire Captain Nicholas Camilli.
“My father worked with Gary most all of his police career in Chicago Heights,” said Camilli. “I’ve known Gary, since the police department would do their family holiday parties. It’s an honor to be here. Gary has done so much for the community. We’re here setting up the flag and honoring as the casket passes underneath. I will miss his smile most of all.”
Chicago Heights Police Chief Tommy Rogers told the funeral-goers that the department’s final tribute to Hibbs would be retiring his Star #102.
Photos by Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle.