Metro

KEVIN CULLEN

After life of sacrifice and love, a couple reunited in death

June and Bill Bratton were a couple for 65 years, marrying shortly after he served in the Navy during World War II.
Bratton Family
June and Bill Bratton were a couple for 65 years, marrying shortly after he served in the Navy during World War II.

They met on the stoops of the Bunker Hill projects in Charlestown, watching what passed as entertainment for the poor — The Loop, it was called, the daily chase when kids who stole cars were tailed by cops in hot pursuit.

When he first set eyes on June DeVilla, Bill Bratton thought she was out of his league. She was pretty and smart and assertive and, well, he just thought she was out of his league.

But she liked that he wasn’t a bragger like so many of the other boys and they hit it off and soon they were girlfriend and boyfriend.

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He wanted to propose but there was a war on and he couldn’t do that to her. Bill Bratton joined the Navy and went off to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. When the kamikazes dive-bombed the USS Randolph, Bill Bratton fired at them and wondered if he’d ever see June again.

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But he made it home and June was waiting for him and they got married and settled on the middle floor of a three-decker on Hecla Street in Dorchester.

He got work as a longshoreman on the waterfront and a second job with the post office for the benefits. He always had a second job. Eventually he left the docks and worked at a chrome plating shop in Roxbury.

He always came home for dinner. June would stand by the window in the late afternoon, pulling the sheer curtain aside, waiting to see him turn off Dot Ave.

She handled the money. In her bedroom bureau drawer, she kept envelopes, each of them filled with cash for a particular expense. In one envelope, she placed $2 each week. That was for vacation, to rent a cottage up at Weirs Beach or down the Cape.

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They had a son, whom June called Little Billy, to distinguish him from his father Big Billy, and a daughter, Pat. When he was a teenager, Little Billy worked with his father at the shop in Roxbury, where they put chrome on police badges. Maybe it was an omen, because Little Billy became a Boston cop, and Boston Police headquarters now sits on the site of that old chrome plating shop.

Bill Bratton rose through the ranks quickly, becoming the city’s police commissioner, before moving on to the top job in New York, then Los Angeles, then back to New York. In 1975, he bought his parents a small bungalow in Weymouth and they settled into a routine.

One of the perks of being the police commissioner in New York is you get to meet the pope when he comes to town. And one of the perks of being the police commissioner’s father is that you get to shake hands with the pope.

After the senior Bill Bratton shook hands with Pope John Paul II in 1995, he refused to wash his hand until he got back to the bungalow in Weymouth, so he could place that hand on his wife in a virtual blessing.

“I loved giving them opportunities to do things, to meet people,” their son said. “They were children of the Depression, they lived through a world war, they raised a family. They sacrificed so much for me and my sister. It was only later in life that I realized how much they sacrificed.”

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June Bratton’s son once arranged for her to meet her favorite singer, Englebert Humperdinck. She never wanted much.

‘I loved giving them opportunities to do things, to meet people . . . They sacrificed so much for me and my sister. It was only later in life that I realized how much they sacrificed.’

Bill Bratton, New York police commissioner, on his parents 

When June got sick, her husband wouldn’t leave her side. They were a couple for 65 years, married for 61, and in all those years the only nights they spent apart were during the war.

The last image Bill Bratton had of his parents together was when he arrived at the hospital, just before June died in 2007. From the doorway, he watched his father stroke her hair, gently, as she slept.

It occurred to him that he never saw his parents kiss. They loved each other beyond words, but there was that old-fashioned reserve, that ambivalence about open displays of affection.

After June died, her husband assumed a new daily routine. At 6 every morning, he went to Jenny’s Food Market in Weymouth and helped the Korean guy who runs it bring in the newspapers. He bought a paper, some scratch tickets, then headed to the Donut King on Middle Street and ordered a plain doughnut. Then he drove to Holy Family Cemetery in Rockland and sat by June’s grave. He’d tell her what was going on. It was as if he was counting the days.

Whenever people told him he must be proud of his famous son, the senior Bill Bratton had a stock reply: “I’m proud of both of my children.”

He liked to play bingo with Pat and her partner Val.

Last year, I was sitting in the back of the black Ford Expedition that ferries the police commissioner around New York when he made his daily phone call to his father in Weymouth. Big Billy wasn’t a big talker. But for his son, one of the most powerful, visible persons in America, that daily contact was vital, a reminder of roots, of family, of the very essence of what makes us tick.

“I love you, dad,” the police commissioner said, ending the call.

As a cop, Bill Bratton has spent his entire career dealing with death, establishing causes of death, and when his father died the other day, he immediately knew the cause of death.

“He wanted to be with my mom,” Bill Bratton said.

On Tuesday, they will bury William E. Bratton, returning him forever to the only place he ever wanted to be, at June’s side.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.