It’s a club that no one wants to be part of. But for the hundreds of families who are unfortunate members, they are glad it exists.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but for the men and women in blue, it can be an uncomfortable reality that along with the possibility of becoming gravely ill, there is always the added danger of policing the frontline.

Since 1992, WA Police Legacy has stepped in to help police families after their police officer loved one has died.

Just like the Police Ode says: “And we that are left, shall never forget,” Police Legacy does just that.

Currently, WA Police Legacy assists 403 widows, six widowers and 52 children.

One of those widows is Andrea Gilmore-Broderick.

Andrea’s late husband Lee Gilmore died on February 23, 2009 after a two-year battle with secondary melanoma.

Looking at a photo of Lee which she keeps next to the dinner table, Andrea remembers the shock of Lee’s diagnosis.

Lee was getting a haircut when his hairdresser saw a mole that was usually hidden by his hair. Lee's hairdresser encouraged him to get it checked.

Years of surfing and growing up around the beaches near Fremantle meant Lee spent a lot of time in the sun. This was the catalyst for his melanoma to grow.

The melanoma was soon cut out but doctors advised Lee to keep an eye on his lymph nodes, particularly if he felt any lumps.

With that scare behind them, Andrea and Lee continued with their happy life, raising their son, Noah, and daughter, Amy. At that time, Andrea and Lee planned to move their family to France to live for one year, then return to Perth and WA Police.

They took a trip to France for their wedding anniversary to find schools for their children, work for Lee and a place to live.

They found it all, and plans were soon in place to move the year after.

But it was on the plane back to Perth that Lee found a lump.

A visit to the emergency department revealed that the melanoma had spread. It was aggressively close to Lee’s brain and lungs.

“He had all his lymph nodes cut out and he went back to work. We crossed our fingers hoping that it would be okay and then he found out through all the testing that he had thyroid cancer as well. It turned out that he had it for seven years,” Andrea said.

Lee had surgery to remove the thyroid tumour and returned to work at Water Police.

In July 2008, a PET scan revealed cancer had spread to Lee’s brain. He had three brain tumours.

The next day, Andrea went to work when she received a call from Lee, who was on sick leave. He was confused and didn’t know where he was.

“I knew he walked to the gym, because he wasn’t allowed to drive. I knew where he would be. So I drove to get him and put him in the car. I don’t know how I did that because he was a big guy. We drove straight to the hospital,” Andrea said.

“They weren’t going operate. They told me to say goodbye, but I wouldn’t. I said to the surgeon, you’re going to do whatever you can. I stood there shouting at them all. Looking back now I don’t really know where I got the strength from. I just said, no, he’s not leaving us. And bless him, this lovely anaesthetist was standing in the room. You could see he was about the same age, and he could see this was dire straits and it was up to him whether he (Lee) went to surgery or not. They took him to surgery and he came out alive three hours later.”

After the surgery, Lee had to learn to walk and write again.

Andrea said she received incredible support from Lee’s OIC now retired Senior Sergeant Greg Trew.

She said Greg was able to accommodate Lee in the station on a part-time basis, giving Lee some meaningful work while he was sick.

“Realistically, he wasn’t going to get any better, but it meant the world to Lee, for his dignity, to be there,” she said.

Greg, who had become a close family friend, also took Lee away on a final surfing holiday to Bali.

“I said no, he can’t go, but one of Greg’s friends was a doctor who said he would look after him so Lee got to have this amazing surfing trip thanks to this amazing, amazing man.”

Two years after his first melanoma diagnosis, Lee died peacefully at home surrounded by his family.

“He was very strong, very manly, so sweet and a beautiful daddy,” Andrea said.

“We used to say we had the white picket fence life; happily married, two very healthy children.

“I’m glad he got everything he wanted in life. He had the perfect job, because he always wanted to be in Water Police, a wife that adored him and two perfect children.”

Legacy2Before his posting at Water Police, Lee and his family moved to Leeman where they became an integral part of the local community.

Lee took an active interest in community policing and taught the school children about bike safety. He was even able to secure a grant to create a bike track and skate park to keep the kids busy. Years later, the park was named the Lee Gilmore Skate Park.

During Lee’s career, he donated every fortnight to Police Legacy. Never did Andrea think she would be on the receiving end.

A Water Police colleague of Lee’s told Andrea about Police Legacy and the support that it offers.

“There are two main things I love about Legacy,” Andrea said.

“It helps us to stay connected to who Lee was, what he did and what he loved. And him as a human being, as a protector and what he did for the community. But also it helps the children realise they weren’t alone because they got to spend time with other kids who had also lost a parent. Mostly dads sadly, but that was the biggest thing; those camps. They were immeasurable in the support and what they provide is something that I couldn’t provide.”

WA Police Legacy run two camps per year for the children of deceased officers. One camp is combined with the military legacy and the other organised by WA Police Legacy.

The camps are run by volunteer police officers and return servicemen and women from the military.

Amy and Noah went to their first WA Police Legacy camp about six months after their father died.

Amy, who was 10 when she went to her first camp, said she remembered feeling apprehensive about leaving her mother.

“I am usually a very loud and open person but I was so shy, just hugging my pillow and didn’t want to let go of mum. But as soon as we got on the bus, there was another girl there who was so nice and introduced me to all the other kids and I thought this is cool. On the way there, we became really good friends and then I was fine after that,” she said.

“I remember it being pretty strange making friends not in a school situation,” Noah added.

“And just meeting everybody, and knowing that you weren’t alone, was pretty special.

“Because obviously, not too many kids at school have gone through the same experience but meeting all the kids who have gone through similar things was pretty good,” he said.

Both Noah and Amy said the friendships they formed through the camps were incredibly strong and have lasted long after they finished attending the camps.

“The friendships I’ve made through Legacy are usually stronger than the ones I’ve made through school because of the similar life track we’ve had,” Noah said.

Amy agreed.

“With Police Legacy friendships, they aren’t just over now that we’ve finished camp. We are really, really close with our friends from camp. We consider them family. We just had people over from Canberra and Melbourne. There’s one girl from army legacy in London we still keep in contact with.”

Andrea said the camps provided the children with support, friendships and taught them life lessons that possibly would have been taught by their father.

“It’s the male mentorship,” Andrea said. “They make sure they have those strong male role models in their life.”

“Amy’s been driving for about two years, and she had a flat tyre last week. It was about 4pm and it was just off the freeway ramp and she rings me and she says ‘I have a flat tyre’ and I go into mum mode thinking I have to ring my dad to come and get her and all that, but she said ‘no, it’s alright, I changed it. I'm just telling you’. Legacy taught her that,” Andrea said.

“These life skills, things that her dad would have taught her, Legacy did all that.”

Noah also said he learnt skills from the camps that he now uses daily, like learning to shave.

“The guys taught us things that dad would have taught us,” he said.

The Legacy camps are a highlight for WA Police Legacy, according to Manager Jill Willoughby.

“It’s actually priceless what the kids learn,” she said.

“One of the boys on the camp said a few years ago, the one thing he really got out of these camps was that he could speak to a police officer who knew his dad. His dad died when he was three, so he really didn’t know his dad. So the police officer told this boy that he worked with his dad and he was a top fella and he was a great guy. So to talk to someone who knew his dad, made a huge difference to that boy.”

Jill said the children are all brought together under horrible circumstances, but always make the most of it.

“It’s a club you never want to be a member of when you have lost a parent, but they have a beautiful bond.”

Widow Jackie Boardman, whose husband David died in Geraldton after a quadbike accident in 2007, agreed.

“No one wants to be a part of it but you appreciate what you have when you’ve got it,” she said.

Jackie’s three children, Jessica, Nathan and Stacey, all attended the Police Legacy camps and had similar experiences to Noah and Amy.

Like Noah and Amy, the first camp was difficult, but since then, they loved going to every camp.

“When they go, they are one way and when they come back, they have a different mindset. Even now, Jessica and Nathan still both wish they could still go on those camps because it’s had such an impact,” Jackie said.

“It’s helped them to find out that they are actually stronger than they think and they can overcome obstacles that they think they can’t.”

She added the camps also gave the children companionship and camaraderie with the other children, volunteers and supervisors.

“They’ve always said how much they have been supported and encouraged. They all know why they’re there. They can just enjoy themselves together and have fun.”

Jackie remembers one camp that was particularly special for Stacey.

An officer who had worked with Stacey’s dad saw her name on the list of children at the camp and, after asking if it was ok, spent time with Stacey. He shared stories with her about her dad, who died when she was just five years old. He wanted to share happy memories of David and tell her what a great man he was.

“So even nearly 12 years later, you still have these officers who remember who the kids were and are still trying to help them,” Jackie said.Legacy6

Remembering David is something Jackie does every day.

But she is glad Legacy does that as well.

“When your husband’s no longer there, you feel that you’re no longer part of that Police Family where before, that is the majority of your friends. So in a way, it still nice to be connected to the Police Family because you know and
understand the work that police do and I still appreciate how much my husband did,” she said.

Jackie said David would also volunteer at their children’s school and help with reading.

“He was always the life of the party, he was a good dad, a good husband, a good son and family was his number one.

“He was also very funny. Everyone he worked with would know it. He used to do silly things to get a laugh,” she said.

Apart from the camps, Legacy has also assisted Jackie to send her daughter on a trip to Cambodia and Thailand to complete some community work.

WA Police Legacy has been helping WA families for nearly 30 years, assisting them financially, emotionally and also ensuring they still feel part of the Blue Family.

Jill said all of the money raised during fundraising activities is given back to families. All administration and salary costs associated with Legacy are covered by investments.

While big fundraising activities such as the Karratha to Broome Bike Ride and the Broome WA Police Legacy Ball raise large amounts of money for Legacy, officers are encouraged to donate through their fortnightly pay.

Officers like Lee and David, whose families are now in receipt of Legacy support, donated to Legacy immediately after joining the Academy.

Jill said only 52 per cent of officers currently contribute to Police Legacy through fortnightly payments.

“One of the comments I make to the recruits, is you can be a teacher or work in the local shop or the bank. If you die, your partner will be looked after. They will get a bunch of flowers and a few meals and things delivered for a month or so, and then you’re virtually forgotten,” she said.

“Police, we don’t ever forget. We look after you until the day you die. We’ve got some very elderly widows in their late 90s, they don’t want anything, but they still come to our lunches, they still get a bunch of flowers on their birthday, little things like that to let them know that we do still remember them and they are still part of us.”

Jill said the intent of Legacy is never to replace a parent, it just wants to help fill a gap.

“We just don’t want these children to go without. They don’t need to miss out on things that they would have had if they had both parents there,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how the officer has died, whether it be suicide, natural causes or killed on duty. It doesn’t make any difference, we look after them all.

“And this is all for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a fortnight.”

By Jessica Porter

TO DONATE: To donate fortnightly to WA Police Legacy, email payroll with your desired donation amount or email Jill Willoughby via manager@policelegacywa.org.au.