In 43 years on the New Milford police force, Deputy Chief Norbert Lillis has seen the best and worst of humanity.

Some memories he cherishes and others he'd just as soon forget.

The 68-year-old town native who will retire on Wednesday, June 30 has done every job there is to do in the department he has watched grow from six officers to about 50.

Deputy Chief Lillis has endured the unenviable task of knocking on a family's door to tell them a loved one has been killed in a car crash. He has slapped the handcuffs on petty thieves and killers. He has grieved with widows of fallen officers.

Yet he, too, has seen bravery in action; witnessed the kindness of strangers.

He's credited with talking sense into young troublemakers so they didn't end up behind bars.

Last Friday afternoon, the veteran police officer who Chief Colin McCormack describes as a "real cop's cop'' found a year-old letter about a 13-year-old boy he not only saved from a life of crime but who ended up as a career police officer in New York City.

"It really kind of touched me,'' Deputy Chief Lillis said Monday.

In that letter, a woman now in Florida wrote about a "a happy ending'' to what was a sad story.

Some thirty years ago, she said her family was shocked to learn the teenage boy they hosted from Brooklyn for about 10 summers stole $1,300 dollars from them.

"After a chat with you at the station, he admitted to taking the money,'' the woman wrote. "It was a long ride back to Brooklyn.''

Years went by with no word. Then one day the now 46-year-old called to apologize. He is a 20-year veteran of the New York City police force, the woman said.

"Our joy was in learning he turned out well,'' the woman wrote. "Perhaps you made an impression on him.''

This was not the first such thank-you note, or call, Deputy Chief Lillis has received over the years.

Some of the teens he caught breaking the law years credit him from influencing them to change directions so that they are now "good, hard-working adults.''

"And that's nice,'' he said.

Yet the veteran cop is ready to exchange his holster for a rod and reel.

"I'm going to go do some of the things I want to do,'' said Deputy Chief Lillis, whose wife, Lennie, owns Lennie's florist shop on Elm Street. "I like to fish, I like the outdoors. I'm a pilot, and I'd like to do a lot more flying than I can do now... I may play a little golf.''

Fellow town native Tom Morey said he hopes with his retirement Deputy Chief Lillis, a man he called a "helluva asset,'' will now have time to meet at Three Brothers Diner.

"We'll drink coffee and tell some lies,'' Mr. Morey joked.

With his decision, the department will be losing the top three members of the department -- the chief and Capt. Michael Mrazik and four other veteran officers. Chief McCormack will remain as interim until a new chief is hired in the late fall.

Union leaders have stated the rush of retirements this summer was prompted by concerns about the contract arbitration and how that will affect medical benefits tied into pensions for veteran officers. That award is due Wednesday.

Deputy Chief Lillis' pension will be the highest at about $109,000; he earns a late retirement benefit for deferring retirement for 18 years. The remaining retirements range from $53,000 to about $91,000.

"He's a man loyal and dedicated to the agency, and to his community,'' said Chief McCormack, noting that his deputy has served as a constable prior to his hire as a police officer. "He's the go-to guy in tough spots, and tough situations... he will be sorely missed.''

In his retirement letter, Deputy Chief Lillis said the department is fortunate to have a "nucleus of very talented and professional officers, who have the knowledge to lead and direct and will continue to make our community a very safe and secure place to reside into the future.

"Change is always good and brings out the best in personnel," he wrote. "I feel this change will enhance and benefit the citizens of New Milford.'

Mayor Patricia Murphy said this is a melancholy time.

"He's been a fixture around here... it will be different without him," said the mayor. "I hope he enjoys fishing.''