Bruce Toll has long harbored an affinity for the Philadelphia Police Department.
About 30 years ago, the co-founder of Toll Brothers, Inc., signed up for a program to shadow local officers for a night. From 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., he sat in the back seat and observed as a pair of cops put their lives on the line.
They helped break up a domestic dispute. They transported someone who had been bitten by a dog to the hospital. They happened upon a dead person lying in the street, the victim of a knife wound. “It was a little scary at the time,” Toll said.
Toll went to bed that night humbled and inspired. Years later, he helped launch the National Liberty Museum’s (NLM) Awards of Valor program, which honors active-duty police officers, police detectives, K-9 units, firefighters and fire police, EMS and EMT workers and emergency responders.
“It’s an honor to take care of police and firefighters in Philadelphia,” Toll said.
On Oct. 6, the NLM is returning the favor. Toll, along with his wife Robbi, daughter Michelle and son-in-law Bill O’Flanagan, will be recognized as 2018 Heroes of Liberty during the museum’s 19th annual Glass Auction and Gala.
The Tolls are members of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park.
“I’m very honored to do this,” Toll said. “They don’t do it for everybody. But I guess they did it because we’ve been involved for so long.”
The NLM, which is on Chestnut Street, opened on Jan. 12, 2000. It is designed to foster liberty by promoting good character, diversity and inclusion and civic engagement. It is mostly stocked with glass art exhibits, and the event on Oct. 6 is the museum’s sole annual fundraising opportunity, helping support the work the NLM does with local children.
Toll first got involved at the NLM more than a decade ago, in part because of his relationship with museum founder Irvin Borowsky. In recent years, he’s handed over much of the responsibilities for the Awards of Valor program to O’Flanagan.
“Bill has been such an advocate for us and for the first responders we honor,” said NLM CEO Gwen Borowsky, daughter of the late Irvin Borowsky, who died in 2014.
Gwen Borowsky said O’Flanagan, who owns several Chevrolet dealerships, has spearheaded the car manufacturer’s support for the awards program. He also brings several Award of Valor honorees to Phillies games every year. The goal is to honor first responders who are still alive, instead of posthumously, as is often done.
Borowsky is excited to pay it back and celebrate the Tolls.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” she said. The Tolls have “been wonderful. They’ve reached out to friends and colleagues and said how important it is to support this, which is supporting us and all the work we do. Our work is about heroes and how that ties into liberty.” l