Pipeline to passion: Palos Heights man reflects on 30 years with all-cop band
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent May 30, 2012 7:44PM
More band facts
Southland police departments represented in the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society, Chicago Police Department band include Blue Island, Flossmoor, Oak Forest and Orland Park.
The band includes six female police officers.
The band has expanded its purpose to promote the appreciation of piping music, performing in numerous parades and competitions throughout the year.
Several movies show the group or its members in action, including “Backdraft,” “The Fugitive,” “The Package,” “Stir of Echoes” and “The Negotiator.” The band also has performed alongside Doc Severinsen, Kevin Matthews and Jay Leno.
CDs, shirts and other merchandise are for sale at www.copsinkilts.com
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:33AM
Tom Cody doesn’t mind being asked what he wears under his kilt.
In fact, Cody — a piper for the all-cop band, the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society, Chicago Police Department — gets a chuckle out of it.
“I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me that,” Cody said. “I’d be richer than Donald Trump, I think.”
The band, after all, is marking its 30th anniversary this month, and Cody is a founding member.
But forget the nickels. Cody’s real riches are in the friendships he has made and the public service he has performed over a lifetime, including with the band.
Cody is into his second career as a police officer, having spent 28 years with the Cook County sheriff’s police and the past 10 as a detective for the Merrionette Park Police Department.
“Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a police officer,” Cody said. “I’m blessed. Not too many people can say they fulfilled their childhood dreams.”
Through his volunteer efforts with the pipe band, the Palos Heights resident serves his fellow officers and their families, in addition to the public. The band has played at more than 100 funeral services for law enforcement officials and firefighters.
Pressed, Cody will say it’s one of the reasons he continues to give his time to the band.
“It’s the honor, to honor our fallen police officers,” he said. “Service and camaraderie, yeah, they’re all there, too.”
From somber beginnings
As proud as Cody is of being an original member of a band composed of active and retired police officers “from everywhere, from Barrington Hills to Kankakee,” it’s difficult for him to recount his memories of its beginnings.
It was the deaths of three Chicago police officers in the line of duty in February 1982 that started the movement. Two of the officers were killed hours after they attended the funeral of the first officer.
One of the fallen officers wanted to have a pipe band perform at his funeral, and the Chicago Emerald Society’s president, Dan Burke, attempted to honor the wish.
“The president called all the local bagpipe bands to perform an honor society at the funeral,” Cody said. “They all declined.”
The next call went to the New York Emerald Society Bagpipes & Drums band.
“The next day, 26 guys got off the airplane,” Cody said. “They performed at both funerals.”
The event affected many people, including then-Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne. Cody said that at the annual Chicago Emerald Society dinner-dance that year, Byrne presented the organization with a personal check for $5,000.
“She said that a city the size of Chicago should not have to import a pipe band to bury one of our own,” Cody said. “In May of 1982, a month later, we had our first meeting. Forty-two guys showed up.”
Cody was one of them.
Like most of the other members, Cody learned to play an instrument with which he had no familiarity. He attended hours of classes and practice every week with his fellow police officers — a schedule he continues to follow — and paid for his instrument out of pocket, and volunteered time for funerals, parades, weddings and fundraisers, often using vacation days or switching days off to make the event.
“It was considered a commitment at the time,” said Dan McGrory, Cody’s longtime friend and fellow 30-year veteran of the band. “Sometimes you got called at the last minute for a funeral.”
McGrory recalled a gesture that set Cody apart from others in the group.
The band’s goal the first year was to be ready to play in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in March 1983. But as the date approached, most members still were unable to afford the requisite kilt uniform. That’s when Cody took a “risky” step, McGrory said. Despite an 18 percent interest rate, Cody took out a second mortgage on his home to outfit the band with uniforms.
Cody wasn’t worried.
“Out of the 42 original members, 27 signed a note saying they’d pay me back, and 15 paid cash,” Cody said. “We had it paid off in 14 months.”
Band, time march on
As two of the seven original members still active in the band, Cody and McGrory have years’ worth of memories.
Some reminiscing brought laughter, such as when they recalled the time a color guard member began losing his kilt while leading the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
There are poignant memories, too: The band had “the honor” of leading a long overdue “welcome home” parade for Vietnam veterans in 1986, playing “Amazing Grace” at Ground Zero to commemorate the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and leading 10,000 special athletes into Croke Park stadium in Ireland.
Then there are the most difficult — but most meaningful — performances.
“In 30 years, we’ve probably performed at over 100 police and firemen’s funerals all over the Midwest,” Cody said.
Sharing such experiences is not without its positive results.
“After all of these years,” Cody said, “we’re a family.”
Raised on Chicago’s South Side as one of eight siblings and the father of three adult children, Cody has no intention of leaving the band family any time soon.
Not only will he continue as a band member, he also will serve on the executive board of the National Conference of Law Enforcement Emerald Societies as a sergeant-at-arms for the next three years.
Besides, Cody said, “I’m still learning how to play.”