Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Oct. 29, 2013)

Larger than life

By Bob Cooper

Ian Millman


The job lost one of its true characters on Saturday with the passing of retired Sgt. Ian Millman after a long battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  It’s a cruel irony that this debilitating disease would strike someone so vibrant with a boundless zest for life, but never one to feel sorry for himself Ian faced his illness with stoicism and courage, more concerned with his family and those around him.  The last time I saw Ian a group of us had gone to his home to visit him.  Once strong and robust, he had lost weight and moved slowly but while the initial sight was a shock to us, five minutes later we were sitting in his living room listening to him reel off the one-liners and in our collective laughter we completely forgot about it.  He was the same old Ian.

Ian joined the Vancouver City Police in 1964 following in the footsteps of his father, Detective Bob Millman. He worked Patrol in the West End, Traffic Enforcement, Drugs and the Internal Investigation Squad.  In 1967 he joined the Vancouver Police Pipe Band which was to be a dominant aspect of his service.  Ian travelled with the Band all over the world from Scotland to Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore and Bali and played in venues like Palm Springs, Ft. Shafter, Hawaii, Miramar Naval Air Station (the Top Gun School) in San Diego, and aboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk.  In 1997 Ian assumed command of the Band becoming the 12th Pipe Major since the Band was formed in 1914.

I never knew Ian’s dad but I’m told that Ian was a chip off the old block and he quickly became known in his own right for a love of fun and a wicked sense of humor.  One day while Ian was in Traffic he was working a Radar car with Pete Ferguson when a call came over that a steer had escaped from the slaughterhouse stockyards South of Marine Drive and was running loose in Marpole.  Ian and Pete located the steer but attempts to head it off were futile and with Pete at the wheel driving beside the steer Ian began shooting from the passenger seat and brought it down.  The shooting itself was no problem as a rampaging steer in a residential area presents an obvious danger but what happened next secured Ian a prominent place in VPD folklore.  When the press arrived, Ian, ever the ham, assumed the pose of a victorious hunter putting one foot on the steer and pretending to blow the smoke out of his revolver all with his trademark ear to ear grin.  A photographer captured the image perfectly, the wire services picked it up and the Chief’s Office received a stack of hate mail from animal lovers the world over.  In typical fashion, Ian slid through it like he was covered with Teflon while poor Pete, who could be seen in the background laughing, got grief for being out of the car without his hat on.

Ian hated going to Annual Range Qualification, preferring to practice instead with the late Ian “Bunny” Hay pit-lamping wild rabbits in Stanley Park on night shift then tossing the carcasses into the Wolf enclosure.  It’s said that when Ian took his kids to the Stanley Park Zoo on his day off, the wolves would purr when they saw him.

Despite his tough exterior, Ian’s one weakness was that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood.  Normally this would present a serious impediment to a police career but not for Ian.  Called to a Sudden Death in a 3 story walk-up in the West End one day Ian pulled up in front of the building and could see the firemen and ambulance attendants standing by the window in the apartment.  He called up to them and asked if it smelled and was told they’d opened the windows and it wasn’t too bad.  Realizing he’d need the victim’s particulars for the report, Ian asked if they’d found the victim’s ID and was told they had.  Ian said “Hey, do me a favor and throw it down to me”.

Years later, Ian was the Acting Corporal on afternoon shift when he and “Bunny” Hay were sent to the Passelin Rooms on Richards Street where one of the lodgers had stabbed another one to death and cut his head off with a paring knife.  Standing by the open window and fighting off waves of nausea Ian got on the radio and asked for a supervisor.  When the operator reminded Ian that he was the supervisor, Ian came back on and said “No!  I mean a REAL supervisor”.  To add to this, when the On-Call Homicide crew arrived Detective Joe Cliffe walked in and asked Ian what he had.  Displaying a grasp of the painfully obvious, Ian said “It’s a homicide” to which Joe replied “Not so fast Millman, how do you know it’s not two homicides?”  When Ian gave him a puzzled look, Joe said “How do you know that head matches that body?” sending Ian running for the window again.

Over the years I knew Ian to say hello to in the Parade Room but didn’t get to know him well until we ran into each other at the bar in the Police Club one day after work and discovered we shared an affinity for a dry martini which led to the start of a great friendship.  We worked together in the early 90s and on one occasion we were at a Naval Weapons Station in Los Angeles interviewing a U.S. Navy sailor who possessed an otherwise innocuous piece of information which proved critical to a case we were working.  The sailor was a big farm boy from Iowa and at the end of the interview I thanked him for his help and then turned to Ian and asked if he had any questions.  Ian, a rock & roll aficionado, fixed the young man with a steely gaze and said “If you’re from Iowa, tell me who was killed in a plane crash (referring to the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper) in a corn field on February 2, 1959?”  The sailor said, “I couldn’t tell you sir.  I wasn’t even born yet.”  Ian then looked down at the tiny Sony microcassette recorder, looked at me and said “That tape’s still running isn’t it?”  I nodded silently and the last word on the tape was “Shit”.  On that same trip we were sitting at a red light when a beat-up old Pontiac pulled alongside.  It had dents and dings all over it and one tail light was broken.  Ian glanced over at it then deadpanned “Good drinking man’s car”.

Ian was an avid golfer and a long-time member of Pitt Meadows Golf Club.  Ian shot in the high 70s and low 80s but when I took the game up he was always very patient and taught me a lot.  Many times I made the hour plus drive out there because playing with him made the trip worthwhile.  One day when we had a time scheduled I awoke to the sound of rain on my skylight in Richmond.  I phoned Ian who assured me that he’d just spoken to the Pro Shop and was told that it was sunny and 75 degrees.  Despite my suspicions I started out there waiting to see that break in the clouds but the further I drove, the darker and stormier it got.  When I pulled into the parking lot the rain was slashing down like one of those tropical storms you see on the Weather Channel and I could see that the 10th Green was flooded.  I found Ian sitting in the lounge with a double scotch in front of him.  I asked how he could trick me into driving all the way out there when he knew we couldn’t play.  He just grinned and said that he wanted company.  I started laughing because you just couldn’t get mad at a guy like that.  Ian measured distances by the number of times you’d have to stop to use the Men’s Room on the way home after a few beers.  When one of the members asked why I didn’t join the club, Ian cut him off and said “Forget it.  He lives 3 pisses away.”   

The thing Ian loved as much as the game itself was the constant banter and the teasing he inflicted on his opponents.  One day he was paired up with another very good golfer, Deputy Chief Rich Rollins, who was just returning to golf after a major heart attack a few months earlier.  Ian jumped into the cart and knowing that Rich was under doctor’s orders not to smoke, offered him a cigarette.  Rich declined but seeing that he desperately wanted it, Ian lit one, took a long drag and said “Man, that’s good”.  A few holes later they were walking off the Green when Ian said “I won that hole Rollins, now pay up”.  Rich asked him what the hurry was and suggested they settle up on the patio after the round.  Ian said “Nothing doing.  You could drop dead on the next fairway and then where would I be?” 

For years, Ian was the MC at the annual VPD Retirement Dinner and he was a natural at it.  In those days the MC would introduce each retiree and roast him (and I mean roast) after which the retiree would get up and respond.  Very few guys took their wives and the humor was about what you’d expect at an event that was mostly White and mostly male.  Almost nothing was off limits and the female secretaries who showed up were a pretty hardy lot and laughed along with it.  Like professional athletes Ian made it look easy but in fact he spent weeks preparing his material.  With his timing and delivery he’d have done well as a stand-up comic and the next day the only thing that hurt more than your head was your sides from laughing.  Ian’s last minute come-back in 2000 met with mixed reviews due to changing times and resulted in a format change where you could now take a 6 year old.  I miss the old ones.  

Ian enjoyed a huge circle of friends that spanned all walks of life and all creeds and colors.  From judges, lawyers, politicians, TV & radio personalities and corporate executives to bellhops, hotel doormen, and waiters. You couldn’t walk down the street with Ian and not run into someone who knew him.  Some couldn’t tell you the name of the mayor or the Chief Constable but they all knew Ian.  Everyone wanted to be around him because of his infectious personality.  One day a group of us were discussing how some career-minded people had a pathological fixation for promotion.  Ian leaned over and said “Bobby, we’ve had more fun in a weekend than some of those guys have had in their lives” and that was how Ian measured things.   While Ian left us sooner than he should have, no one packed more living into his time on this earth.   He had a family who loved him, a great career that allowed him to see the world, and more friends than the rest of us put together.  As life goes, Ian got his money’s worth.     

This is normally the point where the writer signs off with clichés like ‘Rest in Peace’ but Ian wouldn’t have it.  Ian’s version of heaven wouldn’t have anything to do with Rest and I’m betting he’s up there standing on the stage with a microphone in one hand, a Beefeater Martini in the other, and a second one chilling on deck.  The room is roaring with laughter and the party’s just getting started.

Thanks pal, for the friendship, the fun, and all the great memories.  Until we meet again, and when we do the drinks are on you.  And don’t embarrass me with the tip.

I’d like to dedicate this column to the Vancouver Police Pipe Band to which Ian proudly devoted so much of his life.  In addition to acting as outstanding ambassadors for the VPD and the City of Vancouver (second only to the Motorcycle Drill Team – just kidding guys) around the world, the Band does a lot of charity work locally and I’d ask my readers to honor Ian’s memory by supporting the Band in any way you can.

Vancouver Police Pipe Band

Photo courtesy of Hugh Peden, VPD Pipe Band



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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