Richard T. Thrift, who enforced the law in the District of Columbia in the innocent days before America entered World War I, and eventually became the oldest retired member of the Metropolitan Police Department, died of pneumonia Sunday at Greater Southeast Community Hospital. He was 95.
In a five-year police career that was cut short by an accident, Mr. Thrift patrolled a slow-paced city of 300,000 on horse and on foot and, during the administration of President William Howard Taft, was assigned to the White House.
"I stood right at the door," he said during one interview. "Whenever Mrs. Taft wanted to go walking, she called for me. We would walk all over Northwest."
A resident of the Anacostia area for more than 60 years, Mr. Thrift engaged in a variety of occupations and businesses after leaving the force in 1917. He was a truck driver, insurance salesman, gas station operator, owner of an ice and coal hauling business and a taxi driver,
But he maintained and cherished his ties with the police department, and he was fond of reminiscing about his years as an officer.
"In those days," he asserted, "when a policeman said do this and do that, people would do it.
"We wouldn't run to everybody, least little thing and lock 'em up," he said. "We'd just pull 'em over to the curb, tell 'em a few things and let 'em go. That would shake 'em up enough."
On the other hand, he noted, most complaints were for disorderly conduct. Only a few cases involved beatings or shootings. "We didn't have no crime like it is today," he said.
Mr. Thrift was born on a farm in Warsaw, Va., came to Washington in 1909, and worked as a streetcar operator. He joined the 730-member police department in 1912. The $75 a month pay, he said, was $13 more than he could earn on the streetcars.
In 1912, while on one of his walks with Mrs. Taft, he recalled, he complained that for a young man, White House duty was "awful confined." She suggested the mounted police unit, he said. His transfer was quickly approved and, since officers were required to provide their own mounts, he went home to Warsaw for his horse.
Later, while on horseback in Anacostia investigating a complaint about loose chickens he met the woman who became his wife.
The incident that ended his police career came on an icy February day in 1917. His horse slipped and fell on him. A doctor said the accident brought on tuberculosis. Although he eventually regained his health, he could never again pass the police physical exam, although, a daughter said, he continued to try until 1942, when he was 55.
Mr. Thrift gave up driving a cab when he was 72, but remained active until recently, bowling, doing volunteer and church work, transporting friends in his car and keeping in touch with police officers. Last year the police department made him an honorary sergeant.
Mr. Thrift's wife, Helen, died in 1979. Survivors include one son, Lester R., of Palm Harbor , Fla., and six daughters, Maxine A. Allan of Trenton, Mich., Audrey Crown of Washington, Doris A. Sutphin of Suitland, Elaine M. Lindgren of Pebble Beach, Calif., Genevieve Hall of Palm Harbor, and Charlotte M. McQueeney of Riverdale. Also surviving are 16 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.