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Saturday, August 10, 2013

When we first moved to Port Charlotte, we lined up various helpers—Dominic, the pool guy; Rodney, the handyman; Bucky, the roofer; and Mike, the lawn guy. Some of you may remember the story of Rodney, who probably resides in jail today because of his larcenous activities. But you haven’t heard about Mike, and you really should.

Our realtor put us onto many support people, from roofers to septic tank cleaners to exterminators, but the lawn care guy he recommended just never returned my phone calls. So I found myself on craigslist hunting for someone. The first number I called was Mike Wilson, who picked up the phone immediately and laid out the plan for me very clearly and earnestly. He would drive by to see when our lawn needed mowing, and then do it—more often during rainy season and less during the winter—for a flat monthly fee that worked for us.

Mike first pulled up with an immense white van bearing his logo—a badge and the business name “Lawn Enforcement.” Only after we’d hired him did we learn how appropriate the business name was. Mike worked nights as a beat cop for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, on a team affectionately nicknamed The Nightcrawlers, and days as a lawn care professional, assisted by his son Brandon on mower and the loyal Julio, who did weed whacking and leaf blowing. The lawn care business grew from about a dozen clients to 75, because Mike was so committed to providing for his wife and three kids, and never seemed to turn anyone down. And Mike told us that not only would he take care of our grass, he’d keep an eye out for our safety when he was doing nighttime drive-bys to check the grass height. I never felt safer!

When Mike mows the grass, it's like watching Mario Andretti. Speed, I guess, helped him keep up with his growing clientele, but he also just LIKES to drive fast. I later heard that a friend of his turned into a landlubber after one trip on Mike’s fishing boat. His son Brandon looks so much like Mike that one does a double take when he rides by on the mower. But Brandon does a calmer, equally thorough mowing job, and saved enough to buy himself a truck. Once he gets his license he’ll be able to drive that along with the mower.

Mike was good enough to push back the weeds along one side of our property, making it look like our yard is bigger than it is. The first time he started the pushback process, I was working in my office when I heard a “cop knock” on the door. If you’ve ever heard one, you know what I mean. There’s no question that it’s the authorities at your door. Your hair stands on end, you feel immediately guilty for uncommitted crimes, and you hustle to that door. So there stands Mike, grinning as only he can grin, to warn us that his pushing back the weeds has stirred up snakes and that we should watch out for them until they settle down.

Another time, the little elderly couple across the street took affront at Mike’s parking his van across the street from their house. They came roaring out, ripping him up, down, and sideways. I don’t know what got into them! The little old lady even whaled on his van with a folded-up newspaper. So the lady says, “I’m gonna call the cops if you ever park there again!” Mike flashes his grin and his badge, and says, “I AM the cops.” But he never did park there again.

When Gilda and Bobby were having their problems last year, and Gilda left for Michigan, I gave her Mike’s number just in case she needed it. When Gilda became worried about Bobby’s drinking, Mike called on him twice, to make sure he was okay. I know Mike was grinning, nonthreatening, eager to help, but firm.

Our next-door neighbor Peter, from Berlin, shows up in the states only every few years. When he arrived this summer, he wasn’t at all pleased with the job his lawn guy had been doing on his double lot. So, I recommended Mike and told Peter about all the side benefits of having a law enforcement professional doing LAWN enforcement as well. Peter’s English isn’t too great, but Mike’s open, infectious grin and downright honesty did all the communication that was needed. Soon, Mike, Brandon, and Julio were roaring around three lots on our street every week.

This past week, I was in the airport, en route home from a business trip, when Bill called me. “We just got the paper, and I have awful news,” he said. “Mike was shot and killed on duty.” I was shocked speechless. It was just incomprehensible that our protector, friend, lawn guy could be gone. He had without hesitation gone from a traffic stop to the kind of call all police dread--a domestic disturbance—because he happened to be nearby and, as ever, wanted to help. It was just what Mike did. The husband, a marksman, was waiting for him at the top of the stairs and shot him in the chest above his bulletproof vest. Mike just had time to call in “shots fired,” to protect officers following him in, before he was taken to the hospital and declared dead. The shooter later killed himself.

I’m writing this at the end of a day of mourning for all of us in Charlotte County. Over 2,000 attended Mike’s funeral at the civic center, after which he was driven in a motorcade through town, where thousands more lined the route to say goodbye. The whole town is decked with blue ribbons to honor him. The funeral was televised, so I heard dozens more stories about Mike that reinforced the fact that this was one of the really, really good guys whom we had lost. He was a practical joker, committed family man, fisherman, intensely hard worker, and twenty-year veteran of the force whom everyone knew and loved. Not only that, he was a hero.

I stood out on our lonely, unmowed lawn and listened to the motorcade and police helicopters going by this afternoon. Mike, we’re going to miss you. I only wish we’d known you better. And I’m afraid everyone feels a little less safe today, knowing that you're not there watching out for them.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    What a sad ending to the story! I did not expect that. You've written a wonderful tribute to him.
    1661 days ago
  • ATGOAL135
    So sad to read about this tragedy. Your words are a wonderful tribute to an obviously wonderful young man. My thoughts are with you and I will pray for his family. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.

    (I would have responded sooner but we have been several days without news, Internet.....or any contact with real world. In many respects it was good not to be "connected" but of course life moved on without us knowing, while we vacationed...including this terrible loss.)
    1703 days ago
    What a ridiculously wasteful loss of a valuable life!

    He really looks like a "Good Guy!"

    I know the entire community will miss him.

    Thanks for sharing.
    1705 days ago
  • GEORGE815
    Thanks for sharing about Mike. What a great guy. We normally hear how bad law enforcement people are. Prayers are with him and his family.
    1706 days ago
  • JANEDOE12345
    Halfway through the story I started to get that feeling like this man is too good to last. I thought he would quit or ruin your lawn. Instead, it ends with his death. He really was too good to last.

    My condolences to all of you Florida folk who were lucky to have known him. And in the photo, his grin shows clearly that he had a good, beneficial presence in life.

    Hope all else is well with you, Suze. H & I are still the same. Now we all it "living Apart Together" a new trend among seniors I guess. I have gained more weight and H is even skinnier. Sigh.


    1707 days ago
    How terribly sad. My sincerest condolences.
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    1707 days ago
    So sad Suzy. What a wonderful tribute you did to him by writing this blog. Everything you hear about him is praise. He must have been a wonderful man.
    1714 days ago
    So sorry to hear about Mike. This has got to be really hard on his family especially Brandon who spent extra time with him on his Lawn enforcement job. My heart aches for all of them and the community.
    My best friend's son is a cop in Lorain County and a few years ago his good friend got gunned down on a domestic violence call. It's such a tragedy that our good cops die so young.
    Hugs Suzy. Sorry for your loss and the loss of the community.
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    1714 days ago
  • DR1939
    1714 days ago
    Suz that's such a tragedy and you've written a wonderful tribute to him.
    RIP Mike
    1715 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Oh Sue, this is so very sad to hear the loss of this amazing man :(( You wrote a touching and loving story about him -understandable so many were affected by his death..
    Thanks for sharing this part of his life.
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    1715 days ago
    How very sad that such a good man met death while trying to help someone. Despite all we hear about "bad cops", the majority are very good ones. Thank you, Mike!
    1715 days ago
    OMG. So truly horrible. I feel so sorry for his family, coworkers, and all of his friends, including you.

    On Wednesday I ran into my mother's maid and she proudly told me that her son had just become a local police officer. It is such a dangerous job, even in our area. Most people don't know that nurses work a lot with police offices and firemen in addition to paramedics and they are some of the best men I've ever known. They risk their lives every day to keep us safe. emoticon
    1715 days ago
    What a wonderful tribute to a real American hero! You've distilled the essence of a caring professional (in all his work!).
    1715 days ago
    I am so sad that this had to happened. You provided a very moving tribute to him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his friends.
    1715 days ago
    He sounds like a wonderful man. I mourn long with you.
    1715 days ago
    What a loss! You wrote a beautiful memorial, what a loss. It's obvious he will be missed. Prayers for his family.
    1715 days ago
    What a loss. How beautifully you told his story. Thank you for sharing.
    1715 days ago
  • _UMAMI_
    I hope you post at least part of this on his Legacy (? not sure of name) site. Very well written, and I was happy to read about this man and his way of life.

    So sad to see the good guys vanquished by those who apparently have given up on their own lives.


    It does make me wonder about not giving "fodder" to wrongdoers, via notoriety in the news. (copycats, etc.)

    Prayers for the man's family....and your community.
    1715 days ago
  • 68ANNE
    What a terrible loss
    1715 days ago
  • 0309COOKIE
    I'm so sorry for your loss. That was a beautifully written tribute. I was moved to tears. I said a few prayers for Mike.
    1715 days ago
    what a wonderful story, and quite a eulogy and tribute in itself, thanks for sharing
    1715 days ago
    A beautiful tribute. What a loss to his family, and community.
    1715 days ago
    What a wonderful story - If you haven't already, I suggest you send this to the local paper, and to his family - I'm sure it would be appreciated.
    1715 days ago
  • GABY1948
    What a great and loving tribute to one of those people everyone loves instantly. I am SO sorry for you and Bill...I miss Mike I I have never met him!

    You are a wonderful writer! I am always so glad when I see a blog from you...I love your blogs...and I still loved this but it was so SAD.

    Have a great day and try to come back soon! emoticon
    1715 days ago
    Oh, this is so sad to read :-( I am so sorry for everyone's loss.
    1715 days ago
    That is just terrible. Condolences to you and your community, what a great loss!!
    1715 days ago
    Sue-I am so sorry to read this story. It makes no sense when someone so good, loving, and loved is taken in such a tragic way. I will pray for his family and for all of you who knew and loved him.
    1715 days ago
    I am sorry for your loss. What a tragedy for this family and the whole community.
    1715 days ago
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