By Jonathon Brodie/London Community News
The London Police Services (LPS) celebrated its first Black History Month event Feb. 22 by honouring the first person to give the Forest City’s men and women in blue a little extra colour.
Lewis Coray, London’s first black officer, received the inaugural Trailblazer Achievement Award during festivities at police headquarters. Heading forward, the award will be named after its first recipient.
Coray and his wife, Lorene, worked at Kingsmill department store bringing in $37 a week combined, when he applied to the LPS in 1951 to bring in more money to support his two-children.
At a time when open racial slurs were common and some establishments were segregated, Coray never thought the police would hire him.
“Lorene and I mulled it over, naturally thinking I didn’t have a chance because I was coloured,” recalls a journal passage written by Coray more than 60-years ago. “To my surprise I was acquired along with 16 others in late August 1951 with a starting salary of $2,500 annually.”
Known to his fellow officer as Bud, Coray spent 31-years on the force working as a beat officer, then a traffic cop and then as a fraud detective. He retired in 1982 to take a job as personal driver.
Coray said he appreciated being considered a pioneer for London’s police, but he’s just grateful that he was given the opportunity to work as an officer.
“I can’t think of a better profession to be then the police profession,” Coray said to about 80 people who came out for the event, among them family and retired officers Coray worked on the force with. “Life can’t get a lot better than this.”
Although it was 61-years-ago when Coray joined police, Chief Brad Duncan said the contributions of Bud could still be seen throughout the LPS today with things like the Diversity Program, which aims to promote culture in the community.
“Lew set the stage for the acceptance of change in our police organization,” Duncan said, only able to spend a brief time with Coray on the force before the trailblazer retired. “He’s a role model for others to realize their dreams regardless of race, culture or heritage.”
Heading into the award ceremony, Duncan took a look through Coray’s police personal file. Not surprisingly, Duncan said, there were more than 25 letters of accommodation praising Coray of his professionalism and willingness to offer a helping hand in a variety of situations.
Coray’s contributions are also not lost on current black officers within London police. Sgt. Marcel Marcellin, one of six black officers on the force, said he can remember how he proud he felt when he first saw his first black officer when he was 15 years old and how proud he feels now standing next to the man who opened up the doors for him in London.
“Sometimes you need to see to believe, others put it conceive to believe, and I thank God for the accomplishments and the achievements of those who have the courage to blaze a trail for me,” Marcellin said, a diversity officer with roots to Trinidad and Tobago. “As it relates to raising the bar and exceeding expectations, Sgt. Coray did both.”