After 65 years in retirement -- longer than most people work in a lifetime--former D.C. police officer Richard Thrift got an unlikely promotion Saturday.
Dozens of neighbors, relatives and police officers crammed into the back yard of the Congress Heights home of his daughter, Audrey Crown, to celebrate Thrift's 95th birthday and to watch Police Chief Maurice Turner promote him to honorary D.C. police sergeant.
The gold badge and certificate he received were reminders of the five short years Thrift spent on the force assigned to White House guard duty and later to mounted patrol. At 29, Thrift's law enforcement career was abruptly ended when, after his horse fell on him, he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to retire.
"He's an idol and a stimulus," said Turner. "He's reached a ripe old age and he's still alert. We'll make him a lieutenant when he gets to be 100."
Thrift, who holds the distinction of being D.C.'s oldest retired, longest retired and only honorary police officer, says that as a sergeant he plans to "check up on the department" to show them a thing or two about the old way of enforcing the law.
"In those days, when a policeman said do this and do that--people would do it," Thrift recalled. "We wouldn't run to everybody, least little thing and lock 'em up. We'd just pull 'em over to the curb, tell 'em a few things and let 'em go. That would shake 'em up enough."
"Yeah, but the worst crimes were probably spitting on the sidewalk or tying your horse to the wrong post," joked his granddaughter Audrey Harbaugh, 27.
Born in Warsaw, Va., Thrift dropped out of school after the third grade. Since the on-duty accident, he has worked as an insurance salesman, gas station operator, owner of an ice- and coal-hauling business and taxi driver.
Many of his seven living children, 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren showed up for the celebration, homemade ice cream and a gigantic cake, courtesy of WUST Radio Music Hall.
Like most birthday parties, there were gifts--even though Crown asked guests not to bring any.
"Think about it, what can you get a man who's 95?" asked Doris Sutphin, another of Thrift's six daughters.
Even so, gift-wrapped boxes of chocolate-covered cherries and Pierre Cardin cologne poured into the party, so many, in fact, that Thrift never did get around to them that day.
An hour or so after the big event, a couple of latecomers bearing gifts wandered in and wanted to see the guest of honor.
"Hey, where's the birthday boy?" they asked.
"Oh, he's asleep now," answered Crown. "He's all partied out."