GREENLAND, N.H. - There was one last thing Michael Maloney needed to attend to before heading off into retirement after 26 years as a police officer, a task he would not leave to others.
“He couldn’t talk about it,’’ Karen Anderson, Greenland’s town administrator, recalled Friday, “but he said he would take care of it.’’
It was typical Maloney, a small-town police chief never hesitant to work a traffic detail or serve a search warrant. That simple sense of duty would cost him his life.
The 48-year-old Maloney died in a barrage of gunfire Thursday as he and a team of law enforcement officers delivered a drug-related search warrant at the Post Road home of Cullen Mutrie, a man with a violent past.
“He had eight days left before his retirement,’’ said Anderson. “How awful is that?’’
As flags flew at half-mast in this town of 3,500 and as food donations poured into Town Hall from dazed residents, many spoke of Maloney’s great passions in life: police work, his two grown children, and especially his 14-month-old grandson, MJ.
Maloney would come into Town Hall with pictures of his grandson on his phone, Town Clerk Marge Morgan said.
As state Representative Laura Pantelakos, Maloney’s former mother-in-law, put it, MJ was the “apple of his eye.’’
Maloney was a rookie police officer when he met Pantelakos’s daughter, Charlene, who was working as a waitress. They started dating soon afterward.
The couple had two children, Michael, 22, and Serena, 28. Both were at Portsmouth Regional Hospital late Thursday when officials delivered the news of their father’s death.
“To see the blank look in their eyes,’’ Pantelakos said. “It was like they couldn’t believe it was happening.’’
Maloney and his wife divorced about 15 years ago, Pantelakos said, but the chief remained closely involved with his children’s lives.
Those who gathered at Maloney’s North Hampton home Friday said they were too upset to talk.
But emotions ran raw as others described Maloney as a dogged, sleeves-rolled-up leader of a seven-member department who often was the first to show up when someone called for help.
They also remembered him, as one friend put it, “a gentle bear of a guy with a strong handshake.’’
Tom Marshall, owner of the Mizuna cafe down the street from Town Hall, said that when he passed out from heatstroke one day at his restaurant and his workers dialed 911, he awoke to find Maloney hovering over him, after he revived him.
“He was the kind of guy you would want for your neighbor,’’ Marshall said.
For as far back as anyone could remember, Maloney’s dream was to be a police officer.
It’s what he and Chris LeClaire, now the fire chief in nearby Portsmouth, always talked about 26 years ago, when Maloney worked at an auto parts store.
LeClaire wanted to be a fire chief, and they would follow parallel paths. Both were hired full time in North Hampton shortly after that, LeClaire on the town’s Fire Department, and Maloney on the police force. They often worked similar shifts, racing to the same emergencies.
“Mike was a cop’s cop,’’ LeClaire said. “He lived and breathed the job.’’
The two rose through the ranks side by side - the police and fire stations stand next door to each other - and by the late 1990s, Maloney was the police chief in North Hampton, while LeClaire was deputy fire chief. Maloney became chief in Greenland in 2000.
So dedicated was Maloney, LeClaire said, that the police officer, one of the first to arrive at a fire in a local mobile home park, jumped in to haul fire lines to the burning buildings, because the fire team was short-staffed.
John Tucker, who lives in Greenland, said his house alarm went off two months ago a little before dawn, and Maloney answered the call. He found Tucker with a golf club, ready to defend his house.
Maloney walked up, greeted by the golf club-wielding homeowner, and proclaimed, “John, do you really think someone is going to break into your house at 5:45 in the morning?’’
As serious as Maloney was about police work, he could lighten the mood when he sensed fellow officers and firefighters needed a lift after working grim cases.
One got a sense of his more playful side, colleagues said, from his penchant for wearing shorts and sandals, even in winter.
He loved fishing, was a horrible golfer, and was a regular at Suds N’ Soda, a local convenience store where he stopped most mornings on his way to work.
“He would get the $1 cup, black, filled three-quarters the way up,’’ store manager Billy Adams said. He often got a chaser of a couple of lottery tickets.
The town was planning a surprise retirement party for Maloney on April 27, a week after what would have been his last day on the job, at Greenland Country Club, where his wife, Peg, worked. A manager there said the list of guests was 150 and counting.
Maloney had been telling friends he was ready for a new chapter. He planned to take a month off, travel, then think about the next step.
“The past few years,’’ LeClaire said, “were the happiest I have seen him.’’