Richard G. Desmond, 64, of Laurel Springs, a retired Camden County police sergeant and leader of a bagpipe band whose powerful bulk, handlebar mustache, and tall feathered hat cut a memorable figure at the head of parades throughout South Jersey, died Thursday, Jan. 3, of heart disease at Jefferson Stratford Hospital.
Sgt. Desmond began his career at age 20 in 1974 as a patrolman with the Camden City Police Department, which later became the Camden County Police Department. He was promoted to detective in 1986 and sergeant in 1998. During 27 years on the force, he was honored by his superiors 21 times for bravery, heroism, and meritorious service, said a statement issued by Sgt. Desmond’s colleagues.
“He was known for helping younger officers with report writing when he served in the Detective and Patrol Divisions of the Camden Police Department,” said friend Lou Hannon. “He was an all-around good guy.”
Sgt. Desmond was born in New York City and grew up there, attending many St. Patrick’s Day parades. He took great interest in the Emerald Society pipe bands that typically led such parades. After moving to South Jersey, he started the Camden County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums in 1995 and served as drum major in local St. Patrick’s Day parades and at public gatherings as far away as Ireland.
The Emerald Society and the Pipes and Drums were established to honor fallen police, firefighters, medics and military personnel killed in the line of duty. Sgt. Desmond created a scholarship fund, which helps send the children and grandchildren of society members to college.
Sgt. Desmond’s proudest moment came in 1998 when he performed in Washington with five specially chosen bagpipers as two members of the U.S. Capitol Police who had been shot and killed by an intruder, lay in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. The men, Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, had been assigned to protect U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.
Sgt. Desmond’s public service went beyond the Emerald Society. Whenever he was asked to help raise funds for charity, he would volunteer, said Hannon.
“He joined us 30 years ago at the Special Olympics, leading the bands onto the field for opening ceremonies,” Hannon said by email. “He did not hesitate to join the committee when we created the Law Enforcement Polar Bear Plunge in Wildwood 13 years ago, raising thousands of dollars.”
Sgt. Desmond helped organize the Glendora VFW Post 8714 Men’s Auxiliary, and at Christmastime, he visited the Veterans Home in Vineland, N.J., other area VFW posts, and Camden County’s Christmas party for foster children. The party was “dear to Rich’s heart,” his colleagues said.
“He did it for the love of his community and his country, and his need to help and serve anyone he could, at any time,” said his wife, Deborah Carlesco Desmond.
After retiring from the police force in 2001, Sgt. Desmond worked on a plainclothes detail for the Eagles, although he personally rooted for the New York Giants. He also worked for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service.
He could be seen as intimidating. “Rich’s voice was booming, to say the least, and could sometimes come across as scary because of it, together with his grand size, but I believe he came across as a true listener to everyone,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife of 41 years, he is survived by daughters Michele Desmond Taggart, Colleen Desmond, and Kathleen Desmond; two grandchildren; three sisters; and two brothers.
Funeral services were Wednesday, Jan. 9.