Protecting The Pope

Jan 10, 2024

Dana Casadei, Media Relations Specialist

On the wall of Donald “Don” Zimmerman’s room in the Angela Hospice Care Center hung what simply looked like a photo of two men shaking hands, a simple moment in a simple frame, surrounded by countless other family mementos in his room.

That moment was anything but simple though, much like Don, a man who was larger than life, both literally and figuratively.

In that frame was a photo captured by the Secret Service as Don shook Pope John Paul II’s hand – Don towering over him – in 1987. That day Don was in charge of the pope’s security when he visited the Pontiac Silverdome, a story he told with pride from his bed in the Care Center, the feet of his tall frame sticking out from under the covers as he did.

“It was a highlight,” Don said.

During that time Don was the Bloomfield Township Chief of Police, a role he served for nearly 20 years.

Meeting and protecting the pope was a highlight for Don’s family as well. His wife, Phyllis, said the pope was delighted that there were nearly 95,000 people in attendance that day.

While the day itself was clearly a core memory for Don, knowing that Pope John Paul II is now a saint – he was canonized in April 2014, giving him the fastest journey to sainthood in history – was an addition to the story Don was proud to tell.

“When I saw that picture, I said that was our hero meeting the world’s hero,” said Daniel Zimmerman, one of Don’s sons.

Don (center) wanted to be at Angela Hospice after seeing the care his loved ones had received. Left to right: Vincenza, Daniel, and Phyllis

And Don was his family’s hero, having protected so many throughout his career, including the time he spent attending the FBI Academy in Quantico, and in the Army from 1956-1959.

He was not only a proud army vet – he served as Military Police in Inchon, Korea – but was incredibly proud of the work he did with the Bloomfield Township police department, where he started as a police officer and worked his way up to Chief of Police, totaling a career that lasted almost 40 years.

“I had a pretty good idea about what God would say to him when he arrived at heaven, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant,’” Daniel said.

While few things can compare to such an amazing experience for Don as getting to protect Pope John Paul II, his love for his family rated quite high as well. That love was evident in how his room at the Care Center was constantly full of family and friends, reminiscing with him and each other during the 12 days he spent there before he passed in August.

The love between Don and his wife, Phyllis, was evident in every glance they exchanged, every touch, every smile. Sixty-two years of marriage together and they still looked at each other like they were the luckiest person in the world to have found the other.

Angela Hospice was lucky and proud too, to serve a man like Don, allowing for a full circle moment to serve and protect someone who had dedicated his entire life to doing just that for others.

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