Chiefs walk to honor one of their own

Kathy Webber holds a portrait of her late husband, Southborough Police Chief William Webber. Kathy Webber holds a portrait of her late husband, Southborough Police Chief William Webber. (Adam Hunger for The Boston Globe)
By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Correspondent / September 3, 2009

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The police chiefs will be on special duty Sept. 13.

Nearly 100 of them, from every corner of the state, will join forces for the annual Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk to help raise money for cancer research. While the Jimmy Fund has been the official charity of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association for more than 50 years, this time it’s personal.

The chiefs are walking in memory of one of their own, Southborough Police Chief William Webber, who died last fall at age 53 after an 18-month fight with pancreatic cancer.

“Billy was a personal friend of mine - just a wonderful, wonderful guy, consummate professional and a great police chief,’’ said Wellesley’s police chief, Terrence Cunningham. “This is an opportunity not just for the police chiefs, but we welcome any police officers in the communities to come walk with us to raise money for the Jimmy Fund.’’

They will be joining more than 8,000 other walkers from 28 states following at least a portion of the Marathon route from Hopkinton to Boston. This year, organizers have set a goal of raising $6 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund. Over the past 20 years, it has raised more than $60 million.

Webber and his wife, Kathy, had both been active supporters of the Jimmy Fund for many years. Kathy has participated in the Jimmy Fund Walk for about seven years, and Billy joined her whenever he could. They usually walked the full 26.2 miles, but Billy had to scale it back last year.

For Kathy, the effect of cancer on her family has been one of those things people never imagine happening to them.

“As you’re walking it, you see all these pictures of people’s family members’’ with cancer, Kathy said, “and you wonder how they cope with it, and then all of a sudden it hits your own family and you realize you just have to.’’

For this year’s walk, Kathy is joined by Billy’s two children, Kevin Webber and Katie Barry, as well as Kevin’s girlfriend, Lori Mantoni, and Katie’s husband, Brennan Barry.

“I just think it’s an amazing thing,’’ Kathy said. “It helps each of us in our process of dealing with the loss of Billy.’’

Kathy remembers her husband as not only the police chief but also as a loving, caring, funny guy, and she said she’s proud to walk in his name, as he, too, was treated at Dana-Farber in Boston.

Cunningham said his colleagues also will be walking for Rowley Police Chief Kevin Barry, who is battling throat cancer. The Wellesley chief said Barry had been in remission but recently had a recurrence and had to undergo surgery.

“I can’t think of one of us that hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way, and how horrible it’s been,’’ Cunningham said. “This fight just continues.’’

On the last leg of the walk, the chiefs, many in full uniform, will be joined by some of the children served by the Jimmy Fund, in an emotional finale.

“A lot of chiefs were walking before me, and a lot of chiefs will walk after me,’’ association team cocaptain John Creighton, Uxbridge’s retired police chief, announced in a statement. “Coming in contact with the patients and their families, we see their hope and optimism. To be a part of that is an honor.’’

The chiefs have raised more than $100,000 over the past two decades through the walk. It is part of a total of $175,000 raised by the chiefs for the Jimmy Fund over the past year, Cunningham said, with the association’s activities including reaching out to fans at Red Sox games. Police chiefs wielding canisters at Fenway Park have raised about $45,000, he said, with even New York fans showing some heart.

“We attended a Yankees-Red Sox game, and all the folks with the Yankee garb on from out of town, they would stop and talk and give money to the Jimmy Fund because they recognize what it is for and what it does,’’ Cunningham said.

For information about walking or making a donation, visit or call 866-JF-1-WALK. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at