By Doug Hallett
It was hard to miss the number 72 – fallen Guelph Police constable Jennifer Kovach’s badge number – as she was honoured Thursday in a big public funeral.
R.I.P #72 flashed on the front of Guelph Transit buses, alternating with their route information. The number was hoisted at the end of a crane at a condominium high-rise construction site near the Sleeman Centre.
And her number was also prominently hung on a wall at the front of the downtown arena, where an emotional memorial service was held before thousands of emergency services personnel, along with ordinary citizens. The memorial followed a sombre march through the downtown to the arena by police and other emergency service personnel.
Led by a lone piper, eight uniformed officers carried the Canadian flag-draped casket containing the body of Const. Kovach to the front of the Sleeman Centre. She was responding to a call for assistance from another officer on a snowy March 14 night when she lost control of her cruiser and crashed into a city bus on Imperial Road.
Police Chief Bryan Larkin told the crowd that Const. Kovach had joined the Guelph Police Service on Sept. 8, 2009, two days after her 23rd birthday.
“Jen’s personal motto was to live, love and laugh,” said Larkin, who also noted her “incredible work ethic” and her wonderful smile.
He also recognized her volunteer work in the community, which included “donating countless hours and many bags of dog food to the Guelph Humane Society.”
Larkin expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of community support since Const. Kovach died, which “has simply been beyond out expectations.”
His voice quivered briefly at the end of his tribute as he addressed her parents and said she “will forever be remembered as a hero in life, not death.”
One of the most moving tributes during the 2 ¼-hour memorial service came from Const. Neil Moulton, a platoon mate and friend of Const. Kovach’s in “D Platoon.”
“This job was in her blood,” Moulton said, noting her family’s public service background – her father, Bill Kovach, retired in 2011 as a local EMS member working with ambulances, and her mother, Gloria Kovach, is a nurse and city councillor.
“I know she will be looking down on us every time we smell fresh-baked cookies, as her mom used to make them for us all the time,” and also every time an ambulance goes by, Moulton said.
“We lost a piece of ourselves” when Const. Kovach died, he said. “However, we will get that piece back as Jen looks over us.”
Moulton said he was with Const. Kovach as she lay dying. “If the sound of my voice to my departing friend soothed her in any way, then I will be blessed,” he said.
Moulton added: “This has opened my eyes to how precious every day is, and I thank Jen for that.”
Bill Kovach relied on a family friend, Peter Robertson, to read his tribute to his daughter as he stood, crying softly, next to his friend.
In the tribute, he recalled serving on simultaneous shifts with his daughter in Guelph. “I was immensely proud to see her in action, and she was a true professional.”
Gloria Kovach was composed enough to read her tribute, which included offering thanks for the “amazing work” done at Guelph General Hospital in “trying to save my baby’s life.” Her thanks also extended to the driver of the city bus involved in the crash.
“Jen had such a strong sense of family. She adored her big brother, Brian,” Kovach said, recalling the puppet shows they put on for her as children.
She recalled other incidents from her daughter’s life and travels, including Const. Kovach using a hacksaw to cut an ice cream cake presented by friends on her 26th birthday. “She couldn’t wait the 20 minutes for it to thaw.”
She also recalled how, before leaving for her final shift on March 13, her daughter had spoken to her and had been “ecstatic that she was going to be an auntie.”
Her brother’s wife, Melissa, delivered a baby girl, named Paige, shortly after the accident.
Kovach also thanked the community for its outpouring of support. “She was so proud to serve you.”
Also speaking at the memorial service were Ontario Lt.-Gov. David C. Onley, close friends Sarah Cowie and Tara Spears, and Guelph Police Staff Sgt. Scott Grover.
The service was led by Rev. Jim Gordon, who is also a Guelph Police constable, with assistance from Rev. Brian Magnus, a local church pastor.
For more photos from the procession visit our online gallery at www.guelphtribune.ca/photos/.
By Doug Hallett