Danny O'Keefe retires from the RCMP at the end of this month. O'Keefe joined the force at age 53, following a teaching career. - Photo by Danette Dooley/ Special to The Telegram
Danny O'Keefe wasn't surprised when several classmates at the RCMP training depot in Saskatchewan mistook him for an instructor in 2000. At age 53, O'Keefe was 35 years older than his youngest troopmate and decades older than many others.
"Before they got to know who I was, some of them would say, 'Good morning, sir,' until they realized I was in the class," he said.
That was O'Keefe's second time at depot and third time applying to the force.
A native of Ferryland, O'Keefe initially applied as a young teenager out of high school. When he didn't meet the physical requirements, he headed to Memorial University to earn a bachelor of education.
O'Keefe was accepted into the RCMP training program in 1975. However, he left before graduation and returned to his job as a teacher.
"The timing just wasn't right for me back then," O'Keefe said.
He went on to earn masters degrees in educational administration and learning resources, as well as a certificate in criminology and taught for 30 years in the Ferryland area.
By the time he retired from teaching in 1997, he'd spent a decade as an auxiliary constable with the federal police force. He also served on the Ferryland town council, with the volunteer fire brigade and in numerous other community initiatives.
O'Keefe returned to RCMP training depot in August 2000. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the Trinity Conception District. He did general policing duties in Bay Roberts and Old Perlican for most of his career, prior to getting the position of court liaison for the district based in Harbour Grace and will retire April 30.
O'Keefe, who celebrated his 65th birthday on April 4, is the second oldest RCMP officer in the country and the oldest in Atlantic Canada.
He's given many hours of his time to the Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics.
He gets much more out of his involvement with the organization than he gives, he says.
"I went to Quebec City with them in 2008 for the winter games. There were something like 1,500-2,000 athletes gathered in a snowstorm on the Plains of Abraham. You just could see where you were, but not one of them complained. They just stayed there all through the opening ceremonies."
O'Keefe said his wife, Marie, and his entire family have always supported him in both his working life and volunteer commitments.
Marie, a Calvert native, is also a retired teacher and they have been married 40 years.
Their son, Andre, is a carpenter in Mount Pearl. Their daughter, Danielle, is a physician in St. John's. Son, Regan, an RCMP constable in Blackville, N.B, and wife, Melissa, are expecting a child in June - O'Keefe's first grandchild.
O'Keefe said, like teaching, policing has also been a rewarding career.
"I have made a lot of community contacts from one end of the district to the other. All the people I worked with, the RCMP, (Her Majesty's Penitentiary), court staff and crown attorneys were excellent to deal with. It's been a great place to work," he said.
While it's time to retire for a second time, O'Keefe likely won't sit idle. He's hoping to run the Tely 10 for the 22nd time in July.
Never one for "what ifs," O'Keefe said if you want something badly enough, go for it.
"It's never too late to try something new or to pursue your life-long dream," he said.
Sgt. Marc Coulombe worked with O'Keefe before moving to St. John's to become media relations officer in January.
Many people are inspired when they hear O'Keefe's story of how he went through training in 2000 and accomplished the goal he'd set back in the mid-1970s, Coulombe said.
"He's a great man. He's dedicated to the job. He's dedicated to the people. He's just a joy to work with, a joy to be around," Coulombe said.
Cpl. Kent Coish graduated a few years before O'Keefe and heard his name long before he moved to the Trinity Conception District less than a year ago.
"I remember when he was going through depot. The word around was that he was an older gentleman from Newfoundland, but that physically he was something to be reckoned with in his troop," Coish said.
At the end of the training, O'Keefe placed second in physical fitness assessment.
Coish said O'Keefe is always upbeat and positive and is well respected in the community and the district. Young officers see him as a father figure, he said.
"Sometimes, you don't realize what you have until it's gone. And I believe that's the way it's going to be with Danny's retirement. We will fill his position but he will be missed for a long time to come," Coish said.