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Police Widows Guild President Helen Williams, Founding Member Nonie Browner OAM and Secretary Nola Pense.
By Jessica Porter

From humble beginnings in a small room of the old Police Union building on Adelaide Terrace, the Police Widows Guild has grown from group of 15 to nearly 100 members.

The idea to create a support group for women actually came from a serving police officer; Sergeant Ray Browner.

In the early ʻ70s, Sgt Browner’s colleague Constable Terrence O’Sullivan 3893 was tragically killed in a traffic crash in Wembley. At that time, there was no formal support for widows of police officers so Ray told his wife Nonie, he wanted to lend a hand.

Ray organised his colleagues to attend to the O’Sullivan family home to tidy gardens and complete any odd jobs around the house.

Unfortunately, before Ray could put a formal support group together, he tragically died.

Mrs Browner said it took her some time to process the death of her husband before she took the helm to help her fellow widows and support them in their time of need.

“I went and saw Athol Wedd who was the Commissioner at the time,” Mrs Browner said.

“Athol was very supportive and so was the Police Union Assistant Secretary Grace Hewitt.”

Through the WA Police Union, all known widows of police officers, both serving and retired, were contacted through a hand-typed letter.

April 1972 was the beginning of many life-long friendships for the members of the Police Widows Guild. Nearly 50 years later, Mrs Browner still resides on the Committee as a founding member.

Mrs Browner is joined on the Committee by President Helen Williams and Secretary Nola Pense.

Mrs Williams joined the Guild in 1995 after her husband Chief Inspector Bruce Williams 3112 died and Mrs Pense joined about seven years ago after the death of her husband Chief Inspector Bob Pense 3503.

“I got a letter from Helen,” Mrs Pense said. “And I had known Helen before, so I responded. But another widow whose husband had died 10 months before also contacted me. She said she hadn’t joined the Guild because she didn’t know anybody, but she rang and said if I go will you go, so we came.”

The Police Widows Guild offers members, who can join for only $20 per year, the opportunity to meet other like-minded women and support each other after the passing of their loved one.

“It’s for moral support,” Mrs Pense said.

“We are all in the same boat. We can’t change our situation but you can build on it.

“It’s people that you’ve known through the journey with your husband, that you catch up with again, new friendships are formed and it’s just good to keep in touch.”

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More than 30 members attended the February meeting.

Mrs Williams said the Guild contacts widows upon hearing their police officer partner has died.

“But you’re still grieving, so sometimes you just put it aside and unless you get that prompt again, you just let it go,” she said.

“But we want to let new police officers know that if something happens to them, their wives will read this and know there is something there for widows of police officers. There is support out there.”

The support the Guild offers has been immeasurable for the trio.

They are able to share stories about life with their police officer husbands, both the good and the bad.

Mrs Browner remembers accompanying her husband to a country posting in Three Springs.

A black and white TV was strapped to their VW as they made their way to the Mid West town.

Mrs Browner remembers the journey well.

“I cried all the way to Three Springs,” she said.

Although, Mrs Browner was equally as sad leaving the country town.

“And then I cried all the way back home again!”

She also remembers back when officers were allowed to man a station one-up.

“You became the second police person of a one-man station. I used to tell everyone I was the second policeman, I used to stop fights in Kununurra!” she said.

“You weren’t only the wife either,” Mrs Pense added.

“You were the housekeeper, you were the cleaning lady of the police station, and you fed the prisoners.”

The wives said they all used to make meals for the prisoners in custody and would be paid two shilling sixpence (about 25c) for their troubles.

Mrs Pense said she also would be called on to act in her husband’s absence.

“You took some of those dreadful calls and people would sometimes knock on your door when there was nobody at the police station as they had been called out. You took the abuse, you took everything.”

Along with their second-man duties, cleaning and homemaking tasks, the trio said they were also there to support their husbands when they experienced some of the lows of the job.

“Bob came home one day and I had a roast lamb on and he just said ‘get rid of it, get rid of it’. He had been out at a fire where someone had been burned. He couldn’t even come into the house because of the smell of the roast lamb,” she said.

“Another time out at Vic Park, he went to a domestic and looked straight down a shotgun, in those situations, there was no counselling, no support.”

Nowadays, there is support for both the officers and their families, including widows.

Patricia Kelly, mother of WAPU Senior Vice President Mick Kelly, attends the Guild for support and friendship after her husband Thomas died in 2005.

“The women are very supportive. It’s like a family because we all understand each other. It’s been a great benefit to me,” she said.

WA Police Widows Guild Patron and WA Police Legacy Manager Jill Willoughby told the Guild at their last meeting that the group was invaluable as many life-long friendships have been formed.

“There are real bonds here that can’t be measured,” she said.

The Police Widows Guild meet on the first Friday of every month at the RSL Club, Level 3, 66 St George's Terrace, Perth from 11am followed by lunch. Anyone wishing to join can contact Secretary Nola Pense by email.