Wearing clean, pressed navy blues, they came out — hundreds of them — to pay their respects to a fallen comrade.

With so many uniformed men and women in attendance at Ian Matthews’s funeral on Sunday, it was easy to forget that his wasn’t an official police memorial.

A 25-year veteran of the Hamilton Police Service, the former homicide investigator was not killed in the line of duty. On Dec. 17, he died at age 47 after shooting himself in a locker room at police headquarters.

But speeches during the afternoon service at Bay Gardens Funeral Home suggested that injuries Matthews sustained on the job — emotional ones, rather than those brought on by a stray bullet or out-of-control car — played a weighty role in his death.

‘He could only handle so much’

“My father was heavily affected by the cases he could not solve, the answers he could not provide, the pain he could not ease in others,” said Matthews’s daughter Kierstyn, one of several family members to say a few words. 

“A man who devotes so much heart and soul into helping others, he could only handle so much.”

In the short eulogy, Kierstyn praised police officers. She referred to them as “superheroes,” who appear “invincible” in the eyes of others despite the personal anguish they suffer in secret.   

She urged officers in attendance to seek help if they find themselves in distress.

“I believe police workers need someone to talk to about the traumatic events they see,” Kierstyn said.

Book of condolences

Mourners signed a book of condolences for Ian Matthews's family. Beside it stands a portrait of the late Hamilton police officer. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

“I hope others will learn from my daddy’s death to ask for help when they need it, yet I can find peace of mind when I know the demons that haunted my father during his time aren't fighting him anymore.”

Steve Stone, a retired Hamilton cop who first met Matthews while they worked on the force’s vice and drug squad, also stressed how important it is for police to tend to their mental health. 

“All police officers are equipped with visible, external body armour. It is just as important for police officers to develop a kind of unseen, internal body armour to shield them from mental or emotional stresses,” said Stone, who served in the force for four decades.

“It is an important aspect to maintain both sets of body armour…. The maintenance is critical to overall health and survival.”

Tributes

Dignitaries including Hamilton police Chief Glenn De Caire, Mayor Bob Bratina and Councillor Terry Whitehead were in attendance on Sunday, as were firefighters and paramedics, and police officers from other regions. 

'Ian loved chasing bad guys and he was very, very good at it.'—Sam Matthews

The funeral had more than a few moments of levity. Friends often referred to Northern Ireland-born Matthews by his nickname, “Blarney,” and reflected on his mischievous, competitive streak on the soccer pitch and the golf course.

“Ian was very quick to assure you that he deliberately missed the green,” said older brother Sam of Matthews’s antics on the links.

Inevitably, the ceremony was peppered with tributes to Matthews’s work as an officer.

“Ian loved chasing bad guys and he was very, very good at it,” said Sam.

“With Ian, I never felt danger and I never experienced fear,” added Stone, who later recalled times when Matthews was tasked to go to jail undercover in order to extract prison-cell confessions from suspected killers.

“That just shows you the courage of this man.”

‘Even heroes need a place to go’

The end of the service saw members of the Hamilton Police Male Chorus sing a rendition of Amazing Grace and Presbyterian minister Scott McAllister lead prayers.

In his parting words, the reverend too called for “heroes” in need to seek support.

Ian Matthews motorcade

Officers saluted the hearse carrying Ian Matthews's casket as it left the funeral home's parking lot. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

“Even heroes need a place to go, to be human, to be held up for change,” McAllister said. 

After the sermon, funeral-goers filed outdoors, with the uniformed men and women lining up along the north and south sides of Rymal Road.

They saluted as a hearse carrying Matthews’s casket drove out of the Bay Gardens parking lot. “Dismissed!” Pat Desbiens, the honour guard sergeant major, barked, and officers broke formation.

Within seconds, a young, dark-haired policeman approached a colleague — a burly, mustachioed cop who had been directing traffic, tears in his eyes — and gave him a hug.

For a display of sympathy, the embrace was hardly out of the ordinary.

But more remarkably, perhaps, it served as a sign that the minister’s pleas, and those of Matthews’s daughter, hadn't fallen on deaf ears.