Officer honored for dedication, half-century after he gave his life
Boston police Officer John J. Gallagher wasn’t supposed to be working that early-morning shift in Kenmore Square. But the father of three young children had switched nights off with another officer, so when a burglar alarm at the Shawmut National Bank branch went off, Gallagher and his partner were among the first to respond.
In the shadowy basement of the bank, Gallagher found Charles E. Tracy, a 37-year-old cook with a minor criminal record. He had broken into the bank and was holding a long-barreled .38 firearm he had found inside a closet, according to news accounts of that confrontation on May 25, 1962.
Tracy fired first, striking Gallagher in the abdomen and right leg at point-blank range. The officer managed to fire back, hitting Tracy three times. Tracy was struck twice more by other officers, but survived. Gallagher, however, died at 6 a.m. at Beth Israel Hospital three hours later. He was 33 years old.
On Friday, the 50th anniversary of his death, two of his children, Mary O’Donnell and Anne Gallagher, stood with dozens of Boston police officers at 540 Commonwealth Ave., the site of the gunfight, and helped unveil a plaque dedicated to their father. O’Donnell, 58, and Gallagher, 54, stood silently before the plaque as a lone bag piper played “Amazing Grace.”
“I’m just very, very moved by the ceremony we had today,” said O’Donnell. “It seems like a long time ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday.”
Gallagher pinned a tiny sterling silver replica of her father’s badge on Commissioner Edward F. Davis’s lapel as a thank you. “My dad really liked helping people,” she said. “He was a good man and that’s how I remember him. I remember feeling very loved by him and liked. He enjoyed being with us,”
His wife, Rita, raised their three children alone, helped by funds collected to assist the family, which had relied on Gallagher’s $105-a-week salary. Her daughters remained in Boston while their brother, John Jr., 57, moved to London, where he is an executive at the American Bureau of Shipping.
Through the years, Anne Gallagher pored over transcripts of Tracy’s trial and collected newspaper clips and photographs of the shooting, including a picture in the Boston Record American that showed her father lying on the ground, still alive and in agony.
The picture angered some in the public and the police department who saw it as exploitative, but Gallagher said the photograph captured her father’s sacrifice. “I know someone doesn’t want to see that on the coffee table in the morning when they’re having breakfast,” Gallagher said. “But that’s the reality and it’s brutal. That’s what was done to him.”
Tracy was sentenced to die by the electric chair for Gallagher’s killing, but he received several reprieves. He died of lung cancer in prison in 1982, Gallagher said.
Seventy-seven officers in the city have died in the line of duty. Every year, Davis said, their names and the dates and times of their deaths are broadcast over the police radio.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com; Lisa Tuite of the Globe staff contributed to this report.