When a boyhood chum was asked what Edward V. Ecker Jr. was like as a child, he said that he was really good at ice-skating and sleigh-riding, winter sports that the chief of the East Hampton Town Police Department presumably has no more time for.
Mr. Ecker will be named the Montauk Chamber of Commerce’s man of the year at its end-of-season party at East by Northeast restaurant next Thursday. The tickets, which cost $75 per person, were sold out weeks ago.
Eddie, as he’s widely known, has risen through the ranks of the police department since he was hired as a patrolman in 1982. He was promoted to detective in 1986 and stayed with that division for 14 years. Being a detective and delving into police work “was the highlight of my professional career,” he said on Tuesday at the Montauk Precinct.
In 1989, he was promoted to detective sergeant. For 12 weeks in 1992, he attended the F.B.I. Academy, where he was taught management skills including leadership, budgeting, and public speaking. He met many top law-enforcement agents who have remained friends to this day and still meet around the country. “But we always end up in Montauk,” said the chief.
Born and raised in the hamlet, Mr. Ecker doesn’t hide the fact that he is in love with his hometown. Men or women, he greets people with a bear hug. When he was a boy, life revolved around the church and the fire department, he said. “It was such a tight community. My parents were part of both, so it was great.”
In his rookie days, he came through the ranks with “some really good police officers. . . . All those guys were good mentors,” he said, singling out two former chiefs, Todd Sarris and Tom Scott. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to foster my career.”
On his résumé he notes that after graduating from the Montauk School and East Hampton High School he attended several colleges with limited success. So he joined the Navy and was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Hawkbill as a qualified submariner. On one stint he stayed underwater in the sub for 40 days and never felt claustrophobic. “They train you and conduct tests to make sure you can handle it,” he said, adding that he was kept busy on the submarine in his roles as seaman, helmsman, and “solar watcher.”
“I loved it and would have stayed on longer, but I wanted to get married and it wasn’t a family life.”
But what he really wanted to be when he grew up was a train conductor, working with the Long Island Rail Road. He keeps at his house a set of trains that his wife inherited from a family member. He said he used to work bartending and waiting tables at the Blue Marlin restaurant, which was right next door to the Montauk train station. “It was perfect — all the conductors would come in and we’d talk.”
It was when he was stationed outside Seattle that he met his wife, Roxanne. They will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary on Sunday. After living for a while on Oahu in Hawaii, the couple decided in 1976 to move back to Montauk. “I was lucky that Rox was willing to come with me. She took a big jump moving 3,000 miles from her family,” Mr. Ecker said.
They have two children, Kari Ann Shea, who lives in Virginia Beach with her husband, Dennis Shea, a Navy Seal, and Karli Pena, who is married to Jay Pena and lives in San Diego with their two children, Lily Rose and Jude, who is 2. The chief lights up when he shows a picture of his grandson wearing a Giants hat with curls flopping out from under it: “He’s got his Giants hat; he’s ready.”
He was visiting his children in San Diego when Maureen Keller of the chamber of commerce called him with the news that he was named man of the year. “I felt great. I was so excited and happy. But when I got back home, I was humbled by it and humbled by the list of names that went before me,” Mr. Ecker said, noting that both of his parents, the late Edward V. Ecker Sr. and Frances Ecker, have been similarly honored by the organization.
He’s a little worried, however, about the roast that is part of the evening. “My mother will be there,” he said, grimacing slightly.
The worry stems from the guest speakers, including Gordon Ryan, a Montauk attorney who created the “I Know Eddie Ecker” bumper stickers that were plastered all over the hamlet. Mr. Ryan came up with the idea when he learned that many people, when stopped by a police officer, used the line, thinking it would help them out of a jam.
The bumper stickers took on a life of their own and started showing up in far-flung parts of the world. Mr. Ecker received pictures of the stickers on a rickshaw in Peking, an elephant in Singapore, tanks in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in places in the Antarctic. He got calls from people all over the world who said they had seen the stickers.
When they first started appearing, the chief said, he had two thoughts: first, a hope “that no one would think I made them,” and second, wonder “that anyone thought they would really help when they got stopped.”
He said he had no choice but to retaliate. He had stickers made up that said, “Gordon Ryan Esq. He’ll get you off.” Mr. Ecker wanted to introduce them at a very special place and time. “So I decided I’d do it at the Friends of Erin Grand Marshal luncheon,” he said with a laugh.
These days, Mr. Ecker, who was named chief in 2010, has no time for pranks. As the head of the police department he sometimes puts in 10-to-12-hour days and drives frequently back and forth between the Montauk Precinct and police headquarters in Wainscott. He’s also mired in paperwork, but he can’t wait for next week’s party.
In his speech, he said, he will mention the recent changes to Montauk. He speaks of the hamlet with passion. “It’s just a feeling you get out here. When someone in the community needs help, they get it. It’s not talked about, it’s not bragged about, but it’s done,” he said. “Things change, but the people of Montauk, the real people of Montauk, will never change.”