In their lives

How two military officers, an educator, an artist, an architect, a homemaker, a retired police officer, a businesswoman and a 104-year-old woman touched so many others

D.C. police officer Arturio Offord, on motorcycle, with
partner Refino Fisher in the 1980s.

A new police officer struggled to recover from a tragic moment

ARTURIO EUGENE OFFORD
1956-2009

The fateful call came to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department at 8:12 p.m. Oct. 23, 1982, for a "disorderly with a knife" in an apartment near Dupont Circle. Officer Arturio Eugene Offord, then 26, and his partner rushed to the scene of what turned out to be a domestic dispute between two men.

While Offord's partner interviewed one of the men, the other entered the room and stabbed the officer in the chest with a butcher knife. The officer's bulletproof vest saved his life, but the knife-wielding man then lunged at Offord, who fired twice into the man's chest.

The attacker died, and Offord was placed on administrative leave with pay during a prolonged investigation. He was cleared after a year, "but the damage was done," says Sheila Kates Offord, 44, who would later become his wife. "Because he had such a tender heart, it bothered him that he killed someone, even though he was within his rights."

Her husband had been on the police force nearly a year, and he would become withdrawn every October on the anniversary of what was ruled justifiable force in his own self-defense.

But one event, however tragic, cannot define a whole life, and there is much to be said about Offord's years before and after the shooting. A native Washingtonian, he graduated from H.D. Woodson High School, where he was a good student and an outstanding athlete in track and football. Colleges came calling, and he wound up on a scholarship in the Midwest, first at a community college in Minnesota and then at the University of Northern Iowa, from which he graduated in September 1979 with a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy.

He moved back to Washington. Jobs were hard to come by, but he found temporary work in his field. Then, he heard that the D.C. police department was hiring and decided to become a cop.

The fatal shooting affected his job performance, according to official records. While off duty in February 1987, he was arrested for drunk and reckless driving and ordered to undergo a fit-for-duty physical. A month later, he was placed on sick leave.

"Prior to this event, I rarely drank alcohol," Offord wrote in a "post shooting trauma" report. "But shortly after, I began to drink regularly. Furthermore, I have had problems sleeping."

Prescribed sleeping pills hadn't worked, he said in the report. "As a result, I began drinking to ease my restless memory of the shooting." Nine years after joining the force, Offord retired on disability.

Volunteering as Santa Claus, holding son Armand Kates Offord,
during a charity event in 2005.

Afterward, he devoted himself to volunteering, which ultimately may have helped him make peace with that one awful night. He'd walk for breast cancer research and for the homeless. At Christmas time, he'd put on a Santa suit and welcome low-income children bused to a downtown steakhouse. Even in his last year, sick with the bile duct cancer that killed him at age 52 April 18, he insisted on playing Santa.

"He couldn't kill a fly," Sheila Offord said. "He was definitely a good person."

Once, when he noticed that a man had fallen out of a wheelchair in a flash flood near Arena Stage in Southwest Washington, Offord stopped his car, turned on his flashers, got the man back in the chair, got him a blanket and made sure he was okay, his wife recalled.

When he wasn't volunteering, Offord worked as a concierge, easing the path of the rich and powerful at a high-end Washington hotel, a blue-chip law firm, and at the Baltimore Ravens stadium. He served on the board of the Washington Area Concierge Association.

He met Sheila at a cookout nine years ago. "He pursued me for a year. I didn't think I wanted to settle down," she said.

But she gave in. Living off his pension and occasional concierge work, Offord was mostly a stay-at-home dad to their two young sons, ages 5 and 2, which allowed Sheila to develop her business technology firm, Digital Gap Solutions. He also had two grown children from previous relationships.

One of his last concierge jobs was at the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home in Silver Spring. If the family of the deceased wanted a horse-drawn carriage or their loved one's ashes spread in the Potomac River, Offord arranged for it. He also continued working for the Ravens, catering to the needs of club-level patrons, until he became too sick to continue.

"He was a person who wanted to make the world a better place," his mother, Sallie B. Offord, said.

Eugene L. Meyer is a former Washington Post reporter and editor who freelances from Silver Spring. He can be reached at wpmagazine@washpost.com.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Sheila Kates Offord

© 2010 The Washington Post Company