NEW ALBANY — Starr Pavey said her heart has been broken since her husband, Bill, died in June, but a wide smile appeared across her face as she spoke about his personality and gregarious nature.
Bill was a jokester who made everyone smile, even while he was battling cancer for the last five years of his life, Starr said.
“We laughed all of the time until the last month or so. He said it hurt him to laugh,” Starr said of her late husband.
Bill Pavey was well-known throughout Southern Indiana for his service to the community. He worked for the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department for over eight years as a park ranger before serving as a New Albany police officer for two decades.
It was the day of his death, June 3, when Starr said a friend who was at her house mentioned smelling gas. A few days later, she also noticed the smell, and upon further inspection, a serious gas leak was discovered under her home along with about five feet of standing water.
“It’s just been overwhelming stress since before he died. It’s been one nightmare after the other,” Starr said.
She knew some work was needed on the New Albany house, but said Bill didn’t want any interruptions during their last few months together.
But the impact Bill Pavey had on others during his life has been exemplified by what others have been willing to do in his honor after his death.
Pavey was one of the founding fathers of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at Indiana University Southeast. Over 40 years later, his fraternity brothers are in the midst of an extensive rehabilitation project of his house.
Mark Kruer and Mark Lawrence are co-coordinators of the effort, but it’s been a team project. On Saturday, eight volunteers were busy working on flooring and other improvements on the seventh full day of construction inside the home.
Volunteers, consisting primarily of his former fraternity brothers along with some of their spouses, have also worked half-days throughout the week in addition to the eight-hour days they’ve committed to on weekends. As of Saturday, they’d worked over 500 hours on the house after launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the construction. Their initial goal is $30,000.
“These people have jobs and other things during the week and we’ve pulled them all together and they’ve given up a lot of time for this,” Lawrence said.
There’s more work to be done, and Lawrence said they’re committed to completing the task because they want to help Starr.
“We have to get this done for her. We’re on a mission,” he said.
Though recent issues have resulted in busier than usual times for public safety workers, Lawrence said local police officers have still supported the project and have donated to the cause.
‘He put a smile on your face’
Bill Pavey’s job as a policeman was serious, and he was proud to serve his community. But his widow and fraternity brothers said the one trait that stood out the most about Pavey was his ability to bring levity to almost any situation.
“Right off the bat, he put a smile on your face,” Lawrence said. “That’s what everybody remembers about Bill. He was so heartwarming, caring and could crack a joke at anything and would have you laughing.”
Some of his fraternity brothers were able to have one last visit with Bill in late April. Even though everyone knew the prognosis wasn’t good, they said Bill was close to his usual self in that he still cracked jokes and made them laugh.
“If you met Bill, Bill never had an angry tone in his voice. He was never in a bad mood,” said Dan Boone, who met Pavey while he was pledging for the fraternity in 1986. He later worked with Pavey for a short period while he was on the New Albany police force.
“He would start telling a story that you think is a story and it ends up being a joke, and at the end, next thing you know, you’re laughing so hard that you can’t catch your breath.”
Fraternity brother Doug Curry expressed similar sentiments about Pavey.
“He was always there with a big smile to greet you no matter what. If you saw him five minutes ago and left and came back in the room, he was still smiling and happy to see you,” Curry said.
“He would be the first one to come and help anybody and it’s great that our brothers came here as a team. It’s the right thing to do.”
The face of community policing
New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey knew Bill Pavey well before they became brothers in law enforcement.
Bailey said he met Pavey when was a young teenager.
“Bill was one of the best liked, highest respected police officers I’ve ever worked with,” Bailey said. “When he got sick, it didn’t seem real because he was such a big personality when it came to the happiness he brought to everybody in his life.”
Bailey said he’s encountered several people after Pavey’s death who remarked about how he helped lead them down a better path. He was a great police officer because he was a great human being who could relate to anyone, Bailey said of Pavey.
“Bill was really good at putting a human face onto a police officer,” Bailey said. “He always had a smile on his face. He always had a joke to tell. He was a community policing officer before it was popular to have community policing officers.”
Starr said it was common for someone who had a past interaction with her late husband to stop them when they were out in public and talk about what had occurred. She laughed when she recalled a story about one man who had approached them with his mother and stated that Bill “was the nicest police officer to ever arrest me.”
Though it may seem funny in retrospect, Starr said that was the kind of police officer Bill strived to be — a difference-maker. He didn’t pride himself on arrests, but rather in doing what was best to help someone get on the right path in life. Sometimes that mean taking someone to jail, other times it meant offering advice or even using his own money to rent a hotel room for a homeless person.
“He took the meaning of serve and protect to heart,” she said.
The volunteers working on Starr’s home have hours of work still planned, and they’re asking for the community’s help via donations for the cause.
Starr said their dedication and kindness has been a bright spot during a time of sorrow.
“They’ve been God-sent,” she said. “The fraternity has just went above and beyond. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people. Not only are they brothers, but they’re wonderful human beings.”