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Behind the Badge, a True Friend

January 14, 2018 GMT

DRACUT -- The line of people who came to pay respects to Gerald A. Surprenant Sr. stretched outside Dracut Funeral Home last Wednesday afternoon. Once inside, they spoke in hushed voices and looked at photos of Surprenant -- to many in town, Jerry -- and some of the accolades he’d been awarded throughout his life.

Surprenant, the Dracut Police Department’s first community police officer and a man who friends say cared deeply for the town and for its people, died Jan. 6 after a long illness. He was 77.

“We’re hanging in there,” said Bob Moran, Surprenant’s son-in-law and husband to Surprenant’s daughter, Maryellen Moran. “It’s been difficult, but people have been very, very nice and the kind words are very comforting and encouraging.”

Bob Moran, 59, of Brookline, penned Surprenant’s obituary after speaking to Maryellen and Maryruth “Ruth” Surprenant, Surprenant’s wife of 57 years. In it, Moran described his late father-in-law as a true gentleman and a man of integrity. Included in the obituary is a long paragraph listing the many ways in which Surprenant remained active in the community: he was a frequent volunteer at the Dracut Council on Aging, a member of its Board of Directors, and served as commissioner of the Dracut Housing Authority, to name a few.

Moran said Surprenant always had time for others, particularly for the town’s senior citizens.

“He spent all his time working on these various boards, and it’s just because he loved Dracut,” he added. “He wanted to do what he could do to help.”

Members of the Dracut Police Department attended the wake last week to lend their support to Surprenant’s family. Dracut police cruisers were parked in front of the funeral home.

Dracut Police Lt. Peter Pappas said he worked with Surprenant and had known him since childhood. Like Surprenant’s obituary, Pappas listed the many roles the retired officer played throughout his lifetime, including being a Mason and being very active in the Marine Corps League.

“Very patriotic,” Pappas, 53, said of Surprenant. “Loved his country. Loved his job. He loved mankind.”

Pappas -- like many others in the funeral home’s carpeted room dotted by sympathy flower arrangements -- looked up at a television screen displaying photos of the bespectacled Surprenant.

“It’s tough to see him go,” he said. “There’s people who make a difference in the world, and he was one of them.”

Members of the Surprenant family (Surprenant’s wife, son, daughter, and son-in-law) stood at one end of the room, near his open casket. Visitors each took turns shaking their hands, some offering a warm embrace and words of strength. When Richard Silva came up to Ruth, Surprenant’s wife, she collapsed into him, wailing. Silva simply held her as she cried.

“I love you,” he told Ruth.

“I love you too, my friend,” Ruth said as her voice shook.

Silva, of Laconia, N.H., said he knew Suprenant for 56 years. They used to work together as truck drivers before Suprenant decided to become a police officer.

“It’s sad to see him go,” Silva, 76, said in a grief-stricken voice. “We were friends for so long.”

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.