Derrick A. O’Meara is proof that it’s never too late to reunite with your first love.
With a little push after almost 33 years of working with the state police, O’Meara’s passion with art began to flourish again in semi-retirement. After graduating from Rome Free Academy in 1978, he began pursuing his education in art, but ultimately ended up joining the state police academy.
But although it had been almost 40 years since he picked up a paint brush, O’Meara not only began to pursue his old passion, he was actually featured at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Sidewalk Art Show last month.
“1978 was the last show I ever entered in until the Sidewalk Show this year,” said O’Meara. “I graduated from RFA in 1978 and I was very much involved in artwork at that point. That was my strong suit. Art instructors at RFA at the time encouraged me all along to go into the art field. I last showed after graduation in a jury show at Rome Art and Community Center.”
The 57-year-old said he won an art scholarship to attend MWPAI, which he did for two years. “But I really always, since 14-years-old, wanted to be a state trooper, and in 1983 I was accepted to the academy in Albany and started my trooper career,” he said.
During his tenure with the New York State Police, O’Meara said he became an Identikit technician and would create sketches of perpetrators or suspects when a photo was not available.
“Today we have so many videos and people with cameras on their phones, there’s really no call for it,” O’Meara said of his old job. “In the 80s and 90s, we mostly relied on people’s memories a lot if an offense was committed against them or if they witnessed one.”
O’Meara was first assigned to State Police Troop D in Syracuse after the academy and was later transferred to Sylvan Beach. He then worked for Troop T, which is responsible for patrolling the State Thruway, for about a year-and-a-half. The trooper was then transferred to Remsen, where he was promoted to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in 1993.
After becoming “a plain-clothes investigator suit-and-tie guy,” he was promoted to senior investigator in charge of BCI in 2001 and was transferred to Lowville where he oversaw the bureau in Lewis County. In 2004, O’Meara would be given the position of administrative criminal investigator for all of Troop D, which covered Oneida, Madison, Lewis, Oswego, Onondaga, Herkimer and Jefferson counties.
“It seemed like I worked a lot,” he laughed. “Once you get married into that, that world, it consumes you.”
As an administrator, O’Meara oversaw roughly 74 personnel, overseeing all union issues, vehicles and equipment. He was also responsible for viewing all investigative cases “to make sure we were hitting the marks we had to hit, to make sure we were doing the right thing,” O’Meara said.
“I was fortunate to be in a position where there were only 10 in the state of New York. I was one of 10 to steer the boat, and I felt very privileged to do that. I always had the perspective of being fair, thorough and accurate, and to always protect people’s dignity, no matter what side of the law they were on.”
On Dec. 30, 2015, O’Meara retired after 33 years of service because the time felt right.
“I had a good career, and I was in a very good position. I had very good connections and a lot of allies all over the state and Northeast,” O’Meara said. “I saw a lot of people leave when things were not good under the circumstances — where they were disgruntled or disappointed, and I felt after almost 33 years I was in the very best place I could be in and things were going very well. I wanted to leave on the high end.”
He said, “The major then, Fran Coots, allowed me to hand pick my replacement and train him for six months before I left, which is remarkable.”
O’Meara said he felt it was also time to “turn the page” and start something new. He lost his wife to cancer in 2013 after a three-year battle. The retired investigator later met his current fiancee, Susan Zurewski-Rifler, in 2015, and she was the great influence for O’Meara to pick up his paint brush again.
“We met just before I retired in 2015, and one day I just happened to slip a note in her lunch with a little drawing of flowers in a vase wishing her a good day,” O’Meara recalled. “When she opened it, she saw the picture and texted me back saying I had very nice stationary. When I told her, ‘No, it’s just a doodle I did for you,’ she really encouraged me to get moving and going with some artwork again, so I did.”
O’Meara estimates that he’s created somewhere between 250-300 pieces of art within the last couple years. Watercolor is his main attraction.
“A lot don’t take very long, they just roll out of my head and are things I’ve seen or things I’m looking at, mostly in nature,” said O’Meara of his artworks’ inspiration. “I do spend a lot of time in the Adirondacks on the water and on the ski slopes. We do a lot of cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the back country up north, and we have picnics on the frozen lakes. And I get inspiration from things every day.”
While having experience working with other mediums like acrylics, oils, ink and drawing, O’Meara said he prefers watercolors because they “take on a life of their own. It’s kind of free. It wants to do what it wants, and you have to let it sometimes. You can’t contain it too much. And sometimes you just have to start over,” he laughed.
Watercolor painting — “Anybody can do it, and it doesn’t take much as far as the materials. It’s not a big investment,” O’Meara said. “Just don’t restrict yourself much and have fun. Don’t try to make it do what you want to do. Don’t box yourself in and lose freedom of the painting.”
As far as art exhibits, the Sidewalk Show was O’Meara’s first in 40 years, but he hopes to make contact with Rome Art and Community Center to see about the possibility of future shows or possibly hosting workshops. And he hopes to be chosen for the Sidewalk Show again next year.
In the meantime, “We’re toying with starting a greeting card line,” he said. “Maybe the paintings can convey a thought or help someone with their thoughts” as far as what can be written inside.
When O’Meara is not busy at his easel, he also works part-time under Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol helping to conduct pre-employment investigations for employees, vendors and contractors.
“It feels good to be back” in law enforcement, “and I’m honored the sheriff would take me in and have me back in the community,” O’Meara said. “I’ve always enjoyed the interaction with law enforcement, from local to federal agencies, and it still feels right to be involved and doing something for the community.”