About 7:30 a.m. on June 11, Tony Garvey, as he did every day for the past 24 years, left his Brookfield home to go to work. A commander with the North Riverside Police Department, Garvey was dressed in his uniform and carried his lunch with him on his way to the car, which was parked in the garage.
But he never made it into the car. Inside the garage, Garvey pulled out one of two handguns strapped to his body and shot himself. In the wake of his death Garvey’s family, friends and police colleagues have tried to make sense of his death.
At his funeral Saturday morning at St. Louise de Marillac Church in LaGrange Park, dozens of police officers and firefighters from municipalities across the Chicago area, Cook County, and the state police turned out to form an honor guard lining the sidewalk leading into the church.
Garvey’s brother, Michael, a Brookfield village trustee who lives just a couple of doors away from his brother’s home, tried to make sense of an irrevocable, impulsive act that seemed so out of character for Tony, who was a dedicated family man, volunteer and a man others went to when they had problems that needed solving.
“We … know that his reasoning was so wrong, but I will not accept anything other than the explanation that Tony had to act this way because he thought it was best for his family,” Michael Garvey said during the eulogy he offered in church. “And the reason I know that beyond any doubt was because, his whole life, that was the only way he ever acted.
“Forty-seven years cannot be trumped by a moment of being overcome by an illness.”
Until early May, Tony Garvey had been police chief in North Riverside for eight years. However, he was replaced last month, following the election of Hubert Hermanek Jr. as mayor of North Riverside. Garvey’s longtime friend on the force, Lane Niemann, was named chief of police.
“We were brothers here,” said Niemann. “He confided everything with me. I honestly thought we had turned the corner and everything was working. We always felt we were in this together.”
Hermanek had known Garvey even longer, for three decades. The two of them were police officers at Brookfield Zoo before Garvey signed on at North Riverside and Hermanek pursued a career as an attorney.
While the change in police chiefs was a difficult decision, Hermanek said he remained on good terms with Garvey. The two planned on going out to dinner soon and were to be golf partners at an upcoming police chiefs association golf outing.
“Obviously, there’s guilt. It’s difficult to describe the feelings I went through last week,” said Hermanek, who stood by his decision to replace Garvey. “We don’t know what the last straw was. I feel real guilty, but I’ve been told by a lot of people that’s not the reason this happened.”
Garvey remained part of the command staff in North Riverside at the rank of commander and was viewed by Niemann as a valuable part of that team. As commander, he was in charge of scheduling and vehicle maintenance, a task he enjoyed immensely, said Niemann.
“He took such pride in the new design of the squad cars, because that was him,” Niemann said. “It took six months for him to get it exactly how he wanted it.”
Michael Garvey dismissed any suggestion that the demotion was the reason for his brother’s actions. He directly addressed the subject in his eulogy, apologizing in advance for his colorful language.
“Tony did not care about rank or titles,” he said. “He wanted to arrest the jagoffs of the world.”
He also wanted to help others around him, said Michael Garvey, and was “the go-to guy for repairs and emergencies in the neighborhood.”
That’s how longtime neighbor and friend, John Keen, remembered Tony Garvey. Keen, a member of the Riverside-Brookfield High School Board of Education, said Garvey’s suicide was hard to comprehend because the act was so unlike the man he knew — a leader in control of every situation.
“The guy was always under control,” said Keen. “Nothing seemed to faze the guy. Always under control, never swore, always presented the face of a leader.”
Keen also remembered Garvey’s dedication to his children, a trait Keen admired.
“The thing I admired most about him was his dedication to his kids. … Always at their games, always concerned,” said Keen. “He told me once nothing was going to get in the way of raising his kids. Totally dedicated to his family.”
Garvey’s impact on others was evident at his wake on Friday afternoon at Hitzeman Funeral Home in Brookfield. People lined the sidewalk outside the funeral home on 31st Street, some waiting well over an hour to console Garvey’s family and express their sympathy.
At Saturday’s funeral Mass, the Rev. Denis Condon, pastor of St. Louise, spoke of Garvey’s death as “a crossroads.”
“We’ll always live with what Tony has done,” said Condon. “We can let our anger at what Tony’s done infect our lives. … This leads to resentment and anger, a disease that will ruin us. I think there’s a better way. Basically to deal with reality, to deal with all the emotions and feelings we feel now. Not to avoid the pain but to move through it.
“We have to be patient with ourselves and be humble enough to ask for help.”
Bob Skolnik contributed to this report.