William McCabe, former Emerson police chief, dies at 72

by Beacon Staff • September 9, 2009

Born in Boston in 1936, McCabe was a lifelong resident of Charlestown. He attended Northeastern University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in law enforcement in 1979 before he received a master's degree in education from Boston University in 1981.,William McCabe, who served as Emerson's director of public safety for fifteen years, died Sept. 2, succumbing to head injuries he suffered Aug. 28 in a fall. He was 72.

Born in Boston in 1936, McCabe was a lifelong resident of Charlestown. He attended Northeastern University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in law enforcement in 1979 before he received a master's degree in education from Boston University in 1981.

Chief McCabe, as he was known among Emerson faculty, staff and students, had a long and prosperous career in law enforcement before joining the Emerson community in 1992. He served with the Massachusetts State Police for 26 years and was appointed commissioner of public safety by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1987.

In 1981, McCabe worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies to ensure the safe arrival of Pope John Paul II into Logan International Airport, an effort which McCabe's daughter, Maureen Collier, said was one of the most momentous of his career.

"Besides his children, meeting the Pope was probably one of his proudest moments," she said in a telephone interview.

McCabe, who retired from the Emerson Department of Public Safety in 2007, was an avid golfer and was involved in many Charlestown charitable and community organizations.

Collier said McCabe loved the work he did as director of public safety at Emerson, and enjoyed the time he spent with students.

"Usually at this time of the year he would be working around the clock to prepare for the new school year," she said. Current Director of Public Safety George Noonan described McCabe as his mentor, adding that McCabe was the person who recruited him for a position at Emerson while he was still an officer with the Boston Police Department.

"He was outgoing, helpful, friendly and just a great personality," Noonan said. "Everyone knew who Bill McCabe was."

Noonan said McCabe's love of clothing also made him a distinctive figure on campus, and said the chief probably never wore the same outfit twice.

"He was a Dapper Dan, he loved getting dressed up every single day. I know he had extra bedrooms in his house, but they were basically closets," he said.

College President Jacqueline Liebergott said in a press release McCabe served a large role in establishing and improving the safety of the college while relocating its campus around the Common, when the area was still known as "Combat Zone."

"Thanks to his expertise and dedication, we completed and compiled one of the best public safety records of any college or university in Boston while we relocated our campus," Liebergott said in the release.

"He was always firm but fair with everyone," said Collier, speaking about what made her father a good law enforcement official.

Besides Collier, McCabe is survived by his daughter Lynda Stillman and two granddaughters.

Services were held on Sept. 8 and 9.