EMU Police Chief Greg O'Dell remembered as 'a hero cop' during emotional memorial service
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Friends and family of Greg O'Dell offered a final salute to the Eastern Michigan University police chief during an emotional memorial service today.
Several hundred people, including officers from EMU, Ann Arbor and other area police departments, attended the service inside Pease Auditorium on EMU's campus.
"Greg was a hero cop," said former Ann Arbor Police Chief Dan Oates, who worked with O'Dell and considered him a close friend.
Oates said he will forever process O'Dell's death as "yet another casualty of our dangerous and stressful profession."
O'Dell, who was well-respected in the community, died Friday at the age of 54 after committing suicide just west of Ann Arbor.
In addition to his wife, Kathy, O'Dell leaves behind daughters Kelly and Erin, parents Donald and Dawn, siblings Denise and Michael, as well as brothers in law, sisters in law, nieces and nephews.
Several community leaders from throughout Washtenaw County attended the event, including many local government officials.
"As we gathered last night at the funeral home, it was really precious that I recognized so many people from so many different areas of our community," said Michael Wentzel, chaplain for the Ann Arbor Police Department, who offered a prayer and read from scripture.
"I heard the the words calm, caring, genuine, compassionate, focused, organized," he said of how others described O'Dell.
O'Dell had just returned to EMU as police chief after a three-month stint as the University of Michigan's police chief. He previously served as EMU's police chief for three and a half years after retiring from Ann Arbor's department.
In addition to Oates, remembrances were offered by two other colleagues: EMU President Susan Martin and former Ann Arbor Police Lt. Mike Logghe.
Logghe said he's proud to say that O'Dell was his very best friend in life. They were friends for more than 20 years.
"Greg's family was the most important thing in the world to him," he stressed. "We talked nearly every day for the duration of our friendship — sometimes two or three times a day, sometimes even more. We were like teenage girls on the phone."
Logghe said O'Dell often talked of his love for his wife and what a great job she did raising their two daughters and supporting him.
O'Dell, who was born in Flint in 1957 and graduated from Clio High School, spent more than 20 years working for the Ann Arbor Police Department, rising to the rank of deputy chief and serving as interim police chief before going to EMU in 2008.
Logghe said he personally had a spotless record as a police officer until O'Dell, during his time as deputy chief, wrote him up — not once, but twice.
"Frankly, I was very pissed at my best friend," he said. "But he sat me down in his office and he told me the officers looked up to us and it was his responsibility to uphold the integrity of the organization. There could never ever be any appearance of favoritism."
In the aftermath of O'Dell's suicide, Logghe said many are asking why it happened and what they could have done to prevent it. But he said O'Dell wouldn't want that.
Martin remembered O'Dell for his love of EMU and the surrounding community, as well as what she described as his intense dedication to create a safe environment on and off campus. She joined EMU as president five months after O'Dell became police chief in 2008.
"We were both drawn to Eastern as a challenge and an opportunity to make a meaningful difference," she said, referring to her and O'Dell as "two stubborn people who loved Eastern."
Martin said she set forth new protocols to make sure she was not just fully informed about safety issues on campus, but over-informed, and O'Dell made sure that happened, including many late calls to brief her on incidents on campus.
Despite limited resources and challenging budgets, Martin recalled she authorized the addition of a crime response unit of three officers, which O'Dell strongly advocated for. She said that unit has helped prevent and solve many crimes at EMU.
"Our crime rates on campus fell significantly," she said, adding O'Dell made a difference at EMU and she plans to continue the work they started together.
Oates, who was Ann Arbor's police chief from 2001 to 2005, now serves as the chief of police in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver.
He said he knew O'Dell for the past 10 years, and he called him his "best golfing buddy." He said they last went golfing together in August.
Oates also called O'Dell an innovator in the police profession and said he "hunted bad guys with a passion."
"He was always so serious and so intense about police work, and about his daily mission," he said. "He was there to do a job and to do it well."
Oates shared happy memories of the many competitive golf outings he had with O'Dell. He also recalled the time he let him borrow a book on the rules of golf.
"Greg devoured it in a weekend and he handed it back to me on a Monday," he said. "And I saw him walking away with photocopied pages, annotations with notes — the whole bit. And from that point on, he was a bigger rules nut than I was."
Oates also remembered O'Dell as a supervisor who was kind to his subordinates and demanding of himself. When there were tough decisions facing the police department, like budget cuts that dramatically downsized the staff, Oates said, O'Dell constantly pressed him to stay focused on doing the right thing, and he cared a great deal about others.
"In short, throughout his career, he did all anyone can ask of him to make the world a better place," Oates said.
"He was a man of exceptional integrity," he added. "The darkness of this tragedy and the illness that swept him away will not diminish these memories."
A final remembrance was offered by Bob Lee, brother of Kathy O'Dell, Greg O'Dell's high school sweetheart and wife of 32 years.
Lee said these are trying times for the family, but they're comforted in knowing that O'Dell is in a better place now.
"Greg believed in God," he said. "And he believed that he would see Kathy and Kelly and Erin again one day in heaven."
While the family is sorry for the loss of O'Dell, Lee said, "you can't really say loss because we know where he is. And if you know where someone is, then they're not really lost."
Wentzel called O'Dell "a beautiful man" and said that's what makes laying him to rest particularly painful.
"I think all of us would like to go back one week and seek to undo what happened, but we can't, and so today is particularly difficult and particularly painful," he said. "But we have gathered today for a very noble purpose.
"Together we have decided to face tragedy. Together we are remembering all the many blessings that our communities have received through Chief O'Dell."
Wentzel said a fellow chaplain in the Army once described people in three ways. He said there are shepherds, sheep and wolves. O'Dell was a shepherd, he said.
"Some have an additional calling," Wentzel said. "When there's smoke in the building, they run in instead of out. When someone collapses, they're on their phone calling for help with one hand and rendering assistance with the other. And when there's someone prowling in the night, they head out the door while the rest of us slam it and lock it."
Officers presented flags to O'Dell's family at the end of the service. "Your Song" by Elton John was played as the ceremony concluded.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to EMU Athletics or the Ann Arbor Police Department.
Resources exist for people experiencing thoughts of suicide. Anyone in that circumstance is urged to get immediate help. 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is a 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline (Military veterans press #1). 734-662-2222 Ozone House is a 24-hour hotline for youth. 734-996-4747 is a 24-hour hotline at U-M Psychiatric Emergency Services.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.