William Mathews — they called him Bill — liked to surprise the other officers at the Wayzata Police Department. His favorite move was to show up at their calls without letting them know.
Whether it was a domestic violence report or a parking violation, he had his colleagues’ backs even when it wasn’t necessary.
“It wasn’t because he believed you weren’t capable of handling a call alone,” officer Dan Lee said at Mathews’ funeral Thursday. “Instead he believed, ‘If you go, I go, and if you should happen to fall, then we’ll fall together.’ ”
Mathews’ final call last Friday was simple enough: clearing debris in the way of drivers on Hwy. 12. In the course of that task he was fatally struck by a car, driven by a woman allegedly on her phone and under the influence of drugs.
More than 2,000 officers representing law enforcement agencies from across Minnesota gathered at Wayzata Free Church in Plymouth to pay their respects to Mathews, 47, characterized as a man with a big smile and a deep devotion to his job.
Mathews’ casket, draped in an American flag and topped with a single blue rose, was placed in front of the podium during the service. His widow, Shawn, and their 7-year-old son, Wyatt, sat facing it, near sprays of flowers and framed pictures of Mathews with his family and on the job.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who had ordered that flags be flown at half-staff statewide in Mathews’ honor, attended the funeral. Many of the mourners held single blue and white roses handed out by spouses of law enforcement officers. Giant video screens were set up in the church parking lot to accommodate the scores who showed up for the service but were unable to get in.
Shawn Mathews didn’t speak, but her sister-in-law Casie Budolfson read a message from her thanking those gathered in the church for their love and support. She directed her message to her husband, saying that their son was the greatest gift they had received.
“I never believed in love at first sight until I met you,” Shawn Mathews told her husband, according to the message read by Budolfson. “I knew from our first date that I needed you in my life forever.
“I never would’ve guessed forever would end so soon.”
His widow wrote that Mathews never complained about work and that he lived his life serving those around him with dignity and pride. Relatives and colleagues remembered him as a man of principle, one who put his love of the law and family above all else.
“He had a willingness to help even when not asked,” said Craig Budolfson, his brother-in-law. “He just saw life very clearly, and he understood his calling.”
Budolfson joked about how he once asked Mathews if he might ever write him a speeding ticket. Mathews’ quick reply: “Did you break the law?”
“Bill saw things as right or wrong, with very little margin in the middle,” he said.
Budolfson turned to Wyatt. “We can never replace your dad, but we can do our best to make sure we try,” he told the boy. “I know your dad would’ve done the same for me.”
Lee said he saw Mathews not just as a partner but as a friend. They would often talk after their shifts, when Mathews would share stories about coaching Wyatt’s hockey team. Mathews built camaraderie among the dozen officers in Wayzata, where he served for nearly a decade.
“With Bill, there was never goodbye,” Lee said, holding back tears. “In his own words, after every shift, he would simply say, ‘Enjoy.’ ”
As the song “Healing Rain” played across the sanctuary, Shawn Mathews closed her eyes and tilted her head upward, clutching at the air.
The Rev. Kevin Meyer, who said he had seldom seen such an outpouring of love, said those grieving had to “resist the temptation to ask, ‘Where is the sense in that?’ ”
Beth Freeman, 54, of Mound, has been charged in connection with Mathews’ death. She made her first court appearance Tuesday, and prosecutors said she had been talking on her cellphone and under the influence of drugs when she struck Mathews.
Following the funeral, a long procession of squad cars slowly made its way down County Road 101 and west toward Summit Park Cemetery in Wayzata. Parts of the 3-mile route were festooned with blue balloons in tribute.
Dozens of people exited nearby shops as the hearse containing Mathews’ body neared Wayzata Boulevard. Some clutched blue roses and signs saying “FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS,” and put their hands to their hearts.
Hundreds of officers stood at attention as Mathews’ caisson, drawn by five horses and followed on foot by his widow and young son, approached the grave site. Members of the Patriot Guard, each holding an American flag, lined the cemetery road as the caisson passed.
Three rounds from a gun salute rang in the air, and a bugler mournfully played taps. A single bagpipe intoned the melody of “Amazing Grace” before others joined in.
At the end of the graveside service, a police dispatch squeaked over the speakers and a voice declared “10-7,” police code for out of service. It was Mathews’ end of watch.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this story.