Capt. Cheri Maples: “Drum Major for Justice”

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.” — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Celebrating the Life of Cheri Maples
First Unitarian Society
Madison, Wisc.
September 26, 2017

David C. Couper, Chief of Police (Ret)


Good evening, brothers and sisters, fellow-travelers, seekers, friends:

From the East, I carry this image in my mind — it comes from the Hindu tradition.

It is a metal sculpture of Shiva dancing on the back of a sleeping man.

  • Doesn’t the man know God is dancing on his back?
  • Why doesn’t he wake up and dance with God?

Cheri was one who woke up.

And she danced.

I remember when she told me that when she questioned Tich Nhat Hanh, Thay, about whether or not she could be a Buddhist and carry a gun.

Thay told her,

“Who better to carry a gun than a police officer who is mindful and compassionate!”

Yes, who better?

Is that not today’s question as well?

In my police life with Cheri it turned out we were able to recruit and train mindful and compassionate people who wished to be police officers.

Little did we know that we would both pursue the religious later in our lives — she as a dharma teacher and me as an Episcopal priest.

I have known Cheri since I hired her over three decades ago. We became colleagues, friends, and justice-seekers.

Deming’s Quality Movement during those early years helped us all to begin to wake up – to be more thoughtful, compassionate, and to work for peace and justice.

I am missing her dearly as many of you are. You see, I deeply loved her, too.

I remember that fateful morning in the ICU. It was a terrible accident — but I what I remember most about that day is the love that surrounded her as we gathered around – it was a halo, an aura.

I could see, feel, and even taste that love as she was about to go into surgery. It was the “love nest” that would encompass, nurture, and love her during the past year.

Thanks to the Internet and Caring Bridge we all kept in contact with her and one another as we sent prayers and loving thoughts to our dear Cheri – persistent, palpable, and passionate love.

I always knew who Cheri was and where she stood — always. That is a noble quality in a person.

One of my first and fondest memories of her was when I asked my command staff to participate in an adventuresome and high-wire-like “Ropes Course.”

MPD Management Team at the Ropes Course, circa 1990. (Cheri is in the front row, 4th from the left.)

I wanted to enable us to work closer together as a team. Cheri was a fairly new officer at the time. But I wanted her on my top leadership team regardless of her rank.

That day, Cheri and I chose each other as partners to ascend a difficult series of high, elevated, and wobbly logs. In order to do this we had to step on each others shoulders in order to reach the next higher log which was many scary feet off the ground.

She was on my shoulders and then I was standing on hers — and so, up we went — all the way to the very top. It was a bonding moment early in our relationship!

But I never could grasp how she supported my weight as we stepped on each others shoulders as we ascended!

She was both fierce and courageous, yet gentle.

If you ever needed someone to help you do the right thing during a difficult time, Cheri was the person to have in your corner.

I also remember the Patty case and how Cheri persisted in finding the truth even when almost everyone was against her. She stood up to a culture that often has difficulty admitting error.

She had, as we guys tend to say, “balls;” not in the anatomical sense, but in the sense of strength, persistence, resilience – and equality.

She was tough.

Cheri was the epitome of the “New Breed” cops I sought. She was the kind of person I wanted to serve our city.

Madison was a noble experiment in policing that continues today – and still believes police that are best and most effective in a free society when they are smart, educated, compassionate, self-controlled servant-leaders, and keepers of the peace.

Cheri was all of that and more. She helped a police department wake up. Wake up to our potential. Wake up to fairness and justice. Wake up to realize who danced on our back.

In my tradition, our burial liturgy includes a commendation prayer.

I’d like to share it with you and Cheri tonight.

Let us pray,

Into your hands, O merciful [God], we commend your servant Cheri.

Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock,
a sinner of your own redeeming.

Receive her into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and
into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

Now, let’s dance!

  • To view the entire memorial service click HERE.

Cheri Maples

MADISON—Cheri Maples, age 64, died in Madison on July 27, 2017, of complications from injuries she suffered in a September 2016 bicycle accident. Cheryll Ann Maples was born on Nov. 1, 1952, in Fort Sill, Okla., to Jarvis and Betsy (nee Christensen) Maples, and grew up in Oak Creek, Wis.

Cheri was a proud University of Wisconsin-Madison Badger, where she earned her Master’s of Social Work and Juris Doctor Degrees that launched her onto a distinguished life of service.

Cheri was passionate about fighting injustice, racism, and abuse. She first worked for Dane County Advocates for Battered Women (now known as DAIS), and in 1981 became the first employee of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (now End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin).

Cheri’s true calling came when she responded in 1984 to then-Madison Police Chief David Couper’s call to join “Madison’s Peace Corps,” the Madison Police Department. Among the early female pioneers to graduate from the Madison Police Academy, and mentored by Chief Couper, Cheri rose through the ranks to Captain before retiring from the MPD in 2005.

As Captain of Personnel and Training, Cheri gained prominence nationally by initiating mindfulness training for Madison Police Officers and, in the wake of 9/11, for organizing a national mindfulness retreat for criminal justice professionals led by Cheri’s beloved teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. After retiring from the MPD, Cheri went on to serve as head of Probation and Parole for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Assistant Attorney General in the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Cheri became a student of Thich Nhat Hanh in the late 1980s, knowing she had found her teacher when he affirmed there was no conflict between being a police officer and a Mindfulness practitioner by saying “Who else would we want to carry a gun but someone who will do it mindfully? Carrying a gun can be an act of love if done with understanding and compassion.” He ordained her as a dharma teacher in 2008, after which Cheri co-founded the Center for Mindfulness and Justice. One of Cheri’s focuses was on teaching and supporting Mindfulness throughout the criminal justice system, whether initiating Mindfulness classes for inmates in prisons or for police officers throughout the country. She also became widely known and beloved as a teacher to Buddhist laypeople and others interested in exploring the beautiful depths of Mindfulness. Cheri taught widely in the United States and abroad, and her spiritual “home” was Madison’s SnowFlower Sangha.

Cheri was a tremendous athlete, an avid fan of the UW Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers, and loved the details of virtually all sports—most especially baseball. In the days before her passing, she talked excitedly about the Brewers’ unexpectedly successful season, and she admired no human more than she admired Number 42, Jackie Robinson…




  1. Thank you for sharing your friend’s story, Chief. It is obvious Cheri made a huge impact on our world through her love and compassion. No doubt, she will be missed. God comfort you in your loss, sir.


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