The spirit of Greg O’Dell, the Eastern Michigan University Chief of Police who died last Friday, permeated the atmosphere as hundreds gathered in Pease Auditorium today to mourn his death.
The grieving community extended far beyond the EMU campus with logos on the long line of police department vehicles outside Pease including Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Northfield, Howell, Novi, Saginaw Valley State University, Belleville, Oakland University, Michigan State and Somerset Township police departments. Over 140 police officers were at the event.
City of Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones joined many other officers in the lobby before the service. Jones said that O’Dell trained him.
“He was Interim Police Chief when I came to Ann Arbor,” Jones said. “The most important things he taught me were to be patient, and to do things the Ann Arbor way. He was a great man who will be remembered by the many he served and who served with him. He was intelligent, intellectual, wise and he was a true protector.”
The memorial was led by Ann Arbor Police Department Chaplain Michael Wentzel, who described O’Dell as a “beautiful man, a wonderful husband and father, and a dedicated police officer.”
Wentzel repeated the descriptive words he had heard most often at Nies’ Funeral home on Wednesday evening — calm, caring, genuine, focused, organized and thorough.
Wentzel also noted the wide range of people attending both events: prosecutors, public defenders, fellow officers, students and members of many communities — evidence of O’Dell’s broad and positive impact. He spoke of O’Dell as a gifted shepherd, in the biblical sense, “watching over his sheep, and relentlessly pursuing the wolves who are out there seeking to destroy the sheep.” O’Dell was “skilled, respected by the sheep, and loved by the other shepherds.”
Wentzel spoke of O’Dell’s commitment to his family, wife Kathy and daughters Kelly and Erin, and spoke of the time when O’Dell led Kelly through the extreme P90X body exercises to ensure she would be strong.
President Susan Martin also spoke, calling attention to the green high heeled shoes Greg liked her to wear.
Martin recalled the development of her relationship with O’Dell, who joined EMU in February of 2008, five months before her arrival in July of that year. She said they shared a commitment to and love for EMU, calling them a pair of “stubborn people who shared a desire to create a safe environment” at EMU.
Martin illustrated their stubbornness with a story about the first trip the two of them made to meet with Ypsilanti police officers. On the way, the radio crackled out the news of an immediate crime, whose suspected perpetrator was very near their car.
“Greg ordered me out of the car so he could go in pursuit,” Martin said. “I refused to leave, and he had to obey me. He caught the criminal.”
Martin described the improvements O’Dell made to safety on the EMU campus, in particular the creation of a rapid response team and enhanced staffing of dispatchers. Together with the addition of 400 cameras on campus, she said, crimes were spotted and criminals arrested before they could leave campus.
Martin’s closing words came through tears, and had a visible emotional impact on her audience: “Greg, I want you to know you made a difference, and I promise we will honor and respect what you did. As I walk around campus and go to athletic events, Greg, I’ll be looking for you, and I know you’ll be watching over me.”
The theme of O’Dell’s professional expertise continued in remarks by Dan Oates, Chief of Police, Aurora, CO, and Ann Arbor Chief of Police from 2001-2005. O’Dell became one of his two deputies and Oates described their relationship in terms of the many games of golf they played, right up through last August.
Oates said O’Dell was relatively new to playing golf, but was earnest, serious and intense about learning the game, mastering its every rule and improving so he could beat Oates, a veteran player.
“He had a passion to master every task,” and he did so with golf, becoming “a great player, who could defeat me,” Oates said.
Oates reviewed O’Dell’s career, starting with his 1978 position with the Burton police force in his hometown of Flint. In 1979 he married Kathy Lee, and their daughters Kelly and Erin were born in 1981 and 1984. In 1988, O’Dell decided to take a position with the Ann Arbor police, and over the next 20 years he held “nearly every substantive position in the department.”
From 1992-1996, Oates said O’Dell attended the University of Toledo Law School at night, while working full-time in the Ann Arbor Police Department. After he earned his J.D. and passed the Michigan bar exam to become a licensed attorney, he was even more valuable, said Oates. In 2005, O’Dell attended the FBI national academy, further enhancing his skills.
Oates said O’Dell was “kind but demanding of his subordinates” and the chief, and invested himself in the community, serving on the boards of Safe House and Peach Neighborhood Center.
Oates closing comments were choked: “I am determined to move forward, to choose to remember Greg grinning and happy, an exceptional individual who wanted to protect and serve, who loved his family, Ann Arbor and EMU, the best golfing buddy, and most of all a man of honor who was always determined to do the right thing. The illness that swept him away was a dark tragedy.”
Retired Ann Arbor Police Lieutenant Mike Logghe described Gregg as “a very private person.”
“His family was most important to him,” Logghe said. “We talked at least once, and sometimes two or three times a day for twenty years.”
Logghe said O’Dell treated everyone with respect and fairness, and used the example of O’Dell writing him up — not once but twice — when O’Dell was Acting Chief of Police.
“The officers look up to us and there can be no appearance of favoritism,” he said. “We have all wondered why this happened, and what we could have done to prevent it. We have to remember that Greg lived life to the fullest.”
After final prayers, a final salute and the presentation of flags to the family, the police officers left first and a dozen formed a double line leading out of the auditorium to the street. Across the street, over 100 other officers faced the auditorium as the mourning family came out and walked to their cars. No one left until after the family had, to a lunch hosted by President Martin. Two leather-clad motorcycle police led the cortege as it drove away.
The crowd that gathered, then, outside, was left to hug, cry or simply stand in silence remembering Chief of Police Greg O’Dell.