Cpt. George Murtie is retiring this week after 33 years with the Essex Police Department.(Photo by Colin Flanders)

George Murtie drove through Burlington on a late-night voyage that was routine by that point in 1984. His wife, Linda, pregnant with their second child, was often unable to sleep through the night.

Murtie was a construction worker at the time, a career path he didn’t see extending much further. One night drive, he observed a police officer sitting in his cruiser doing paperwork, and he had a quick thought: “I could do that job.”

The next day, several area departments had his applications. Passing him over the first time, Essex called later that year when another opening arose, and Murtie was off to the academy.

“Thirty-three years later, here I am,” he said last week.

With his retirement party days away, the veteran officer had already begun cleaning out his office. He found an old ticket book that would soon be relegated to the cabinet of artifacts in the department’s lobby, one of the many memories he’d leave behind.

Murtie began as a patrol officer and ended second in the chain of command as one of the department’s two captains. He spent a quarter-century in uniform before taking over the detective division, a position he jokingly said he’d take once he was “too old to do real police work.”

“I never worked so hard in my life,” he said of the role, in which he oversaw the department’s major cases and headed internal affairs investigations.

The new roles brought more responsibility, and Murtie’s proud of the work he’s accomplished. Law enforcement is a great profession, he said, and Essex has been a great place to spend a career.

“If there’s a place where it’s easy to do police work, certainly this is one of the better places,” he said.

He also credits his family for his success. He frequently racked up overtime during the early years of his career, and family members often arrived home to a sign on the front door reading: “Shh, George is sleeping.”

After years of seeing people at their worst, police officers lose the luxury of taking life at face value. And with the final leg of his career coming amid the opioid crisis, Murtie has seen the residual crimes that grow as people seek ways to fund their addictions.

“You learn things about people that you wish you didn’t know,” he said.

Still, Murtie likes his job, and said he could see himself working until 65. He didn’t even think about retirement until his wife began bringing it up some months ago.

“You’ve been doing this a long time,” she said to him. “It’s starting to change you. It’s starting to take a toll.”

Despite best efforts, the work inevitably made its way home. Murtie said his biggest regrets are two unsolved homicides from when he started with the department.

He said he won’t miss the late-night phone calls or the trivial incidents that take up an officer’s time. And he certainly won’t miss the worst part of the job: Informing people something tragic happened to their loved ones.

“I’ve done that so much, I’m ready to move on,” he said.

As to what, the story traces back well beyond that late-night drive. After starting off on the piano at age 7, a teenage Murtie, inspired by The Beatles’ historic Ed Sullivan appearance, knew he had to get a guitar.

He’s played almost every day since and even attended Berklee College of Music for a semester after high school.

Murtie plans to spend his new-found free time focusing on his life’s first passion: music. (Courtesy photo)

A recent introduction to social media has sparked 20 subscribers to his YouTube channel, where Murtie is seen strumming his guitar from his Essex home. So far, he’s posted over a dozen videos, including covers like Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on my Mind” and even an original song, “Them Choices,” which finds Murtie crooning about some ill-fated rough-housing.

Another song, called “My Next Last Chance,” was written in a Boston hotel room after Murtie’s wife was recovering from surgery for stomach cancer.

“Ain’t no turning back, I’m moving at the speed of faith
Nothing left to lose, relying on the hands of grace
Don’t know what’s ahead, learning all the steps to dance
I’m running down the road and I’m gonna take next last chance.”

Murtie plans to play some open mics before aiming to snag some gigs around the area with the help of his wife, who’s now fully healthy.

A likely attendee to those shows will be Chief Brad LaRose, who Murtie a valued adviser with the “highest level of honor and integrity.” When asked of Murtie’s singing prowess, he put it this way: “I won’t be throwing any tomatoes.”

And though starting his singing career when most others fade, Murtie said it’s all about the experience.

“It doesn’t have to take me anywhere,” he said. “But I’m just excited about the opportunity to go out and get some people to listen to my music, write some music and play with some other people.

“I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve now,” he added. “I’m so looking forward to what the future holds.”