A Life Well Lived

High Sheriff Michael Downing Wanted What was Good for Everyone

May 1, 2015


by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

A great friend, a great role model, a fantastic family man.  These are just some of the words Salem resident and longtime friend Michael Carney used when describing the late Rockingham County High Sheriff Michael Downing, who passed away April 17 after a battle with cancer.

Downing, a lifelong Salem resident, who dedicated his life to public service, graduated from Salem High School in 1972, then joining the 82nd Airborne Military Police.  Following his service, he worked as a Salem police officer, later becoming a New Hampshire state trooper and even serving as a military aide to former Governor Jeanne Shaheen.

Downing’s service didn’t end there.  He served three terms as a state representative, two terms in the state senate, and in 2010, ran and was elected as high sheriff of Rockingham County, where he was currently serving his second term.

Also a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest chartered military organization in the country, Downing served as captain commander from 2009-2010, an accomplishment he was proud of.

While serving as sheriff, Downing sought to reduce the influx of heroin use in the region, classifying Rockingham County as a high-intensity area, meaning additional resources could be brought in.

“That was one of his primary goals,” said Carney.  “He was ahead of the curve I think on this.”

The process was not easy, and meant working closely with local chiefs’ of police, gathering statistics and creating reports on the number of users.

“He was not worried about all the bad public relations,” Carney said, adding he cared about helping and protecting residents.

But his service to the community was also done outside of the office, serving on multiple boards and committees in town.

“If you needed anything, he seemed to be there before you asked,” Carney said.  “To me he was just the definition of public service.”

“He was one of the most caring individuals you could ever meet,” said Sonny Tylus, who served with Downing on the Salemhaven Board of Directors and knew him for many years.  “He had a deep love of the community as shown by the fact that he was involved in many organizations.”

Lifelong friend Michael Collins met Downing in kindergarten and said he truly cared for others.

“Sincere, humble, he wanted what was good for everybody,” Collins said.  “The guy was just all heart.”

In the office, Collins said Downing didn’t follow party lines but acted with what he thought was best for everyone.

“He took a realistic approach; he didn’t take the hard line,” Collins said.  “It was always what was right and just.”

“He was always worried about you,” he said.  “Even when he couldn’t be there, he was there.”

And through his career, Downing was the pillar of his family.  With his wife Heidi, they raised five children, and had six grandchildren.

“He had no regrets.  He’s proud of the life he lived and the family he built,” said Reverend Kyle Stanton, Downing’s nephew, who was the lead pastor at his funeral.

Carney said on Sundays the family would gather at Downing’s home where they would grill together and spend time by the pool.

Held at St. Matthew Church in Windham, Downing’s funeral was filled with family and friends, along with hundreds of law enforcement officers.

Senator Lou D’Allesandro, who served with Downing in the state house and senate, gave the eulogy, recounting Downing’s character and achievements.

“I don’t think there was a better guy,” D’Allesandro said, noting his lifelong commitment to the community.

Downing’s parents, Dilbert and Teresa, sat in the front row during the service, surrounded by family.  His casket was led out of the church by a large group of law enforcement officials, both on foot and by motorcycle.

A portion of Route 111 was closed, and the Salem and Windham Fire Departments’ ladder trucks were setup to hold a large American flag, which the precession passed beneath heading to the cemetery.

A wake was held the previous day at Windham High School, where hundreds of people came to remember Downing.

In March, Downing received the Chief John P. Ganley Community Service Award at the Boys & Girls Club of Salem on St. Patrick’s Day in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the community.