Clifton Massey’s last words to his daughter were, “I love you, too.”
It was an exchange Cary police Chief Tony Godwin didn’t know occurred until he talked with his cousin, Mary Libby Burnette, shortly before a memorial service Thiursday to honor fallen officers in Roanoke Rapids and Halifax County.
Godwin, the guest speaker at the event, said his cousin, 14 at the time, jumped in her father’s lap to tell him the tender words.
“You never forget those words,” Godwin told the audience at Lloyd Andrews City Meeting Hall, where the event was held due to inclement weather. “I’m happy those final words were, ‘I love you, too.’”
Roanoke Rapids police Chief Chuck Hasty had been trying to get Godwin to speak in the city when they first met at a conference. “When I first met Chief Godwin, he told me about his connection to Roanoke Rapids through his great uncle. I immediately wanted him to come and speak and his schedule finally allowed it this year. I was touched by his heartfelt comments on his great uncle and his empathy for not only him, but the family members whose lives he touched.”
Godwin never knew his great uncle, who was gunned down November 21, 1946. “He was only 42-years-old, some nine years younger than I am as I stand before you tonight. I wasn’t born until 21 years later.”
Godwin said, “I knew him only by pictures and through stories that were told to me by my grandfather, Cary Massey; my great aunt, Inez Massey, and his daughter, my cousin, Mary Libby Burnette who was a very young girl at the time.”
Massey, a patrolman with the Roanoke Rapids Police Department, was shot and killed by two brothers as he was taking his dinner break. They disarmed him and shot him with his own pistol. The brothers were ultimately captured, convicted and sentenced to 30 and 20 years in prison.
Godwin said it wasn’t until 2013 Massey was added to the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Washington. “I was fortunate enough to be there that night when his name was read as part of the honor roll of officers being memorialized on the wall that year.”
Being there to represent his family and profession, he said, “Will go down as one of the biggest honors of my career. But it also served as an incredible lesson to me as well. For the first time in my career I came face to face with many family members of these heroes who had died. That experience made me realize that while we honor those that have sacrificed their lives in service to our community, it is important that we recognize, love and support those that survive in the wake of such a tragedy.”
Said Godwin: “As I look at my family here tonight, I see Patrolman Massey’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren that were forced to sacrifice their opportunity to know their grandfather.”
Referring to Burnette, Godwin said, “She lost her father at such a young age. Her life was forever changed because of his dedication to the people of Roanoke Rapids. For that I am very sorry. I am so sorry that anyone must lose a family member to this cause. But the men and women of law enforcement … know that could be their fate. Their families know that could happen as well.
“But they understand the greater good to which they were called. And their families, while they don’t like it, understand too that is a calling.”
In closing his remarks, Godwin chose the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Please know that those of us that are here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. This ceremony, this memorial represents the best of us. We will always be thankful. And we will always remember.”