Wedding bells may signal loss of pension Widows of fallen )) officers and firefighters in dispute over bill to keep benefits

May 27, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Judy Rumpf knows she is fighting an impossible battle against a group of women regarded as sacrosanct in Baltimore.

The 49-year-old widow of a city police officer killed two decades ago is against a proposal that would allow the surviving spouses of officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty to keep pension benefits after they remarry.

Rumpf says that allowing remarried widows to retain the benefits is like accepting "blood money." She plans to face off against other widows at a hearing scheduled for tomorrow at City Hall.

Rumpf, whose husband died in 1978 when he plunged down an elevator shaft in a burning building, has forced a confrontation that is raising passionate, personal feelings about love, marriage and the memories of the city's fallen protectors.

"I wouldn't expect to receive blood money from my late husband," said Rumpf, who gets $1,093 every two weeks. "For me to remarry someone and for me and my new husband to live off my former husband's death, I can't see it."

Rumpf said that if a widow "meets somebody and chooses not to marry because of the money, then they have put a price tag on love."

Other widows say they are angry at Rumpf's opposition.

Spouses of officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty receive checks equaling their yearly salaries, with raises dependent on the pension system. The money is cut off if the spouse remarries.

Under the bill proposed by the Fraternal Order of Police, spouses would get full benefits for life, regardless of their marriage status.

Widows say that many have not remarried because they would lose their pension benefits.

"It was a tremendous struggle," said Kim Deachilla, whose husband, William T. Martin, was fatally shot in 1989. She married another city police officer in 1994. "I made the decision to give up the money with a tremendous amount of anguish," Deachilla said. "What I was giving up was my security."

Deachilla said other widows "are living with adults out of wedlock because they don't want to remarry" and lose their benefits. "It shouldn't be like that."

Officer Gary McLhinney, the FOP president, said all 18 City Council members support the proposal and noted that funding comes from surplus money in the pension system.

The union head said Rumpf "is in this alone. It's a personal issue."

Betty Miller, whose husband, Richard, was killed 12 years ago when he was hit by a car -- the driver was convicted of

first-degree murder -- said the bill will help young widows to get on with their lives.

"It is a big decision for a lot of these survivors," Miller said. "If they lose this benefit, they can never get it back."

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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