Below is an opinion piece that ran in Roll Call today in honor of my friend, John Gibson, who was killed 10 years ago today while protecting me and my staff in the U.S. Capitol.
My daughter jokes that he was tougher on her than I was. But in the case of Capitol Police Detective John Gibson, his influence on my family was not born of the years we were together, the thousands of hours, hundreds of meals and dozens of holidays we celebrated together. It was the man.
Gibson met everyone, regardless of whether he knew them, with a smile. He was kind and funny and unfailingly honest. He was as tough as iron, except when he wasn’t, and then would emerge the doting, beloved father of three. He was a devout Catholic, and when he wasn’t working through the Boston Globe sports page, he could be seen thumbing through his Bible. He loved hockey, so much so that he even vainly suffered to explain it to me, who couldn’t tell a red line from a Red Wing.
He served on my security detail from 1995 to 1998, and in that time he became a unique friend in my life. Capitol Police officers on security details, you see, are not supposed to become too friendly with the people they protect. Personal relationships cloud objectivity and judgment — and thank God for that — and yet I, like the members of my staff and, from what I could tell, everyone he ever met, would call Gibson my friend.
He was often the first person I saw in the morning and the last one I saw at night. He was frequently the person with whom I spent the most time in a day, and, quite possibly, in a month or a year. I did not deserve the unique gift of this man’s company and friendship.
He was a trusted friend to my wife, a second father to my daughter, and a beloved member of both my personal and Congressional family. John Michael Gibson was my hero even before July 24, 1998, when a disturbed man named Russell Weston ran into my office on the first floor of the Capitol with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.
We all heard the shots. None of us saw them, though, because the moment we were in danger, John ordered everyone to take cover. Weston, who had moments earlier slain Officer Jacob Chestnut at the document room door on the west side of the Capitol, chased a woman down the hall and into the suite of offices known as H-107. John shoved the woman to safety, but before he could defend himself, Weston shot him in the chest. Mortally wounded and with some of his last conscious breaths, John drew his weapon and brought down Weston with shots in his stomach and each leg. Seconds later, the Capitol Police arrived in force, arrested Weston, and removed from his pockets the additional rounds of ammunition he could have used to kill all of us.
It’s strange that the word that comes quickest to mind when we meet those sworn to protect us — police, firefighters, soldiers — is “professionalism.” The confidence and competence such people exude is not borne of years of intense training and experience, but of the choice they make to undergo it. What makes people like John Gibson and J.J. Chestnut, like every man and woman serving in the Capitol Police, special is not their courage and integrity, but their sacred choice to offer those qualities, and indeed, their very lives, into the service of others. It is easier to call this daily choice to serve “professionalism,” but those of us who know the men and women of the Capitol Police, those of us blessed to have known John Gibson, know better. What we classify as “professionalism,” we recognize, in our grateful hearts, as love.
John Gibson and J.J. Chestnut did not die to protect “others.” They died to protect me and my staff. They died to protect you. Think about that when they lose their specialty pay in budget cuts, or when they’re in need of new bulletproof vests that will actually fit under the plainclothes uniform of our protectors. Think about that the next time you’re in a hurry and you feel inconvenienced with a request to walk back through the metal detector or flash your ID.
Think about that. And think about them.