Do you write posts “ahead” in Blogger or whatever blog-host you utilize? I do. I save them and then make an extraction when time permits or the proverbial “time is right.” I had to look back to June of this year in order to access this draft; I wanted a reflective piece for Sunday, and I believe I’ve found the right one. This is one of the most heartbreakingingly-personal posts I’ve ever exposed:
A recent comment at Texas Fred’s blog got me to thinking: who influenced you? Who helped make you what you are today?
There was a man who was a major, major influence and, I now believe, had even a greater influence on what I aspired to be and what I’ve become.
Hugh Arthur McGraw. Or “Baby Huey” as some in Patrol called him then. But never to his face. He perished so young and somehow I’ve managed to survive. I looked high and low for photos of him that I could post. All I could find was a wrinkled photo of me in 1975, smiling with innocent and naive fervor, unknowing of what was yet to come, with my mentor sitting in the passenger seat. Note the gloves on his hands. A bit on this in a moment.
It’s time this hero was recognized, and that I acknowledge him for what he was.
He died at age 36, in his beloved Porsche 914, from a cardiac arrest. He drove from one job to another in the morning, because he worked almost constantly to support his kids, his new wife, his job.
He stood 6’2″ and weighed 330 pounds. His wrist was 10″ around. His hands were the size of catcher’s mitts. And his damaged hands were almost constantly covered by gloves. This was his greatest misperception.
Most thought he wore gloves because he featured himself a “bad ass.”
In truth, he wore black leather gloves because he was embarrassed for the numerous scars on the palms and backs of his hands — he was a welder. And he was embarrassed for his “working class” background and the fact this his hands and nails were cracked, dirty, brown.
Some did call him “Baby Huey.” And perhaps most of those persons were closest to the truth. He was huge, make no mistake. He possessed power to spare and beyond.
Yet he managed to consistently rein in his power, harness it, and unleash it only when prodded to the most extreme. He consumed cola drinks almost 24/7. Only many years later did I finally realize: he was merely trying to stay awake for his wife and his committments, because of all the jobs and appointments he had in each and every given day.
When children or animals were threatened on our various calls, whilst I was a Reserve Deputy with him, no power or trials or venues were spared. If there was one thing he despised, it was the powerful lording their power over the powerless. And I learned that trait from him, despite my being significantly less a physical presence than he, at 5’9″ and 175 pounds.
I learned these planetary constants from Hugh:
There is actual Good;
There is actual Evil;
– Evil prospers when Good recedes; one cannot let Evil prosper;
– People predominantly want to live;
– Only the ignorant or foolish wish to immediately die;
– Life is a fight;
– Nothing worthwhile is easy;
– Deal with facts;
– Check your emotions at the door;
Hugh was big, he was huge, he was Larger Than Life.
I can remember our working Beat 14 in 1975, one of my first weeks as a cop, in Rancho Cordova, late at night, and because he had worked all day and all night he fell asleep. I was a Reserve Deputy at the time. And he always made me drive. I was in the driver’s seat of our green-and-white Plymouth Fury, parked, writing reports. He was snoring. And I felt this overwhelming compulsion to protect him.
He was huge and he was exposing his vulnerability.
I resolved to protect him. Always.
He showed me how to drive fast, safely; he showed me how to anticipate the railroad tracks, the curves of Florin Road, the corners. He trusted me, as a Reserve, to be contact officer on most of our calls once I had some time behind me. He was always understanding and tolerant of my mistakes. He never yelled. All he’d have to do is frown and I’d know: uh-oh.
He said: always cover your partners. Always cover your Sergeant. Listen to the radio. Know where everyone is. Remember their last call.
At the time we didn’t have laptops or terminals in the cars. We had a single radio head. We had five channels. We didn’t have portables. When you left the car you left your ability to communicate. It was assumed you would win, supercede your call and be available for the next.
I can remember my first CPR call: 1977. A small child had fallen into his parents’ pool. They called the Sheriff’s Department number. We responded. His body lay in the deep end, at the bottom. I hate water. Hate it. Yet I dived in and pulled the child to the surface. I remembered my training: have a hard surface. Tilt the head. And the child died. He died in my hands.
The parents wouldn’t go into the pool and get him; I went in to get him. I just assumed that’s how it was then. And I figured I failed. Failed horribly.
That night, I drank irresponsibly at The Cove. And then I went next door to The Standard Club and drank some more. The next day Hugh took me aside and centered me as best he could.
I went from him to various other training officers on the department.
I became the Best Man at his wedding with Polly, his new wife, along with Phil and Dave. He was too much and too soon and too over the top and too emotional and too rational. He was larger than life. So much larger than life. Physically, mentally, ideologically.
Quite frankly he made me what I may be today, in terms of logic, proportion, rationality, common sense, facts, truth, ethics, honesty, courage.
I saw his worst and I saw his best.
I saw him, whilst in a scooby cell at the Old Main Jail, take a pederast we had just arrested and literally press the man against the padded wall, up the wall, so that his feet were dangling a good 6″ above the floor, holding him one-handed by the throat — now, a-la Darth Vader. He would never have done that had the man not deserved it. I believed it then and I believe it now.
I saw him, at a riot call on Edison just east of Watt Avenue, pick up a man and throw him, bodily, completely, over the hood of our car and into the westbound lane of traffic adjacent our vehicle. I hadn’t seen the man coming. I realized later: he intercepted this man and saved me from violence. I hadn’t seen the swinging baseball bat in the man’s hands. I hadn’t see the man at all.
He drove a Porsche 914; he worked a welding job from early in the morning until the beginning of his swing shift, from 1500 to 0100. He worked two or more jobs. Every day. He scarred his hands by performing manual labor and was ashamed.
He died doing what he considered to be normal: making money to keep his family afloat, to provide for his son and daughter from a prior marriage.
His heart simply succumbed to the stress. And yet he possessed the largest imaginable heart in my entire world. Then. And now.
He became the greatest influence in my job.
I make no apologies: the tears flow down my cheeks as I write this. In remembrance. Of the good times and the innocent times. And yet he managed to check my innocence at the door and bring me past the threshold of my naivete and into reality.
He was background. Always background. He taught me, he trained me, he propped whatever good I possessed into the foreground.
I can’t find any photos of Hugh right now. And perhaps he meant it that way. I can only find a photo of what I’ve managed to achieve despite my inner failings and because of his influence. I progressed from a Reserve Deputy, to another department where I ended up taking a man’s life and being investigated by the FBI and exonerated, to a full time deputy for my original department in 1980, to a Reserve Training Officer, to a full-fledged Training Officer with Corporal Stripes, to a Detective, to a US Marshal, the FBI, to my current position of Sheriff’s Sergeant.
Hugh: Whatever meagre manner of success I’ve managed to achieve in my career, I couldn’t have done it without you.