TAMPA — Many of the police, deputies, judges and politicians at Walter C. Heinrich's funeral Saturday remembered a man who reformed local jails, arrested murderers and recovered millions in stolen property while serving as Hillsborough County sheriff.
But during the service, family members offered another glimpse into the life of the man who served as sheriff for 14 years, until he retired in 1993.
His son, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Walter "Buzzy" Heinrich, recalled a father who loved to play practical jokes. One night at a restaurant, he used a gag gift to make flatulence sounds, much to the chagrin of his new daughter-in-law.
"He kept us in stitches," "Buzzy" Heinrich said.
His daughter, Cindy Basham Guyton, spoke of a man who held his family together for 72 hours, until they received news that Guyton's sister, Linda Bookin, hadn't boarded a plane that had crashed in Peru, as she had planned.
Sheriff David Gee shared stories about a retired sheriff who worked on cold cases in his spare time and occasionally called to make sure deputies were following protocol.
Heinrich's grandson said he was proud to have a grandfather who was also his friend.
"He was the kind of grandfather you wanted to bring to show and tell. … He was the type of person we all strived to be," said "Buzzy" Heinrich's son, Justin Heinrich.
Walter C. Heinrich died Monday of a heart attack. He was 83.
About 400 people attended the service at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, including former and current judges, Tampa police and Sheriff's Office officials.
After the service, an honor guard carried out the casket as bagpipers played Amazing Grace. The sounds of a 21-gun salute, taps and a four-helicopter flyover pierced the air. Then, the hearse drove to Garden of Memories Cemetery.
"Buzzy" Heinrich said Monday was a very emotional day. At first, he was angry that his father died.
"I felt like my dad was my best friend," he said.
Heinrich carried a bag of remembrances to the lectern. He pulled out a bunch of handcuff keys his dad had saved and his first captain's badge from his years at the Tampa Police Department.
He shared quotes from his dad's 1944 high school yearbook. He discovered the book Tuesday and opened it, seeking a window into his father's past.
"You know? Back when you were dumb and young," he said.
He learned that his dad was vice president of a Christian club. A teacher penned a note thanking him for his "friendly cooperation." And he had lofty ambitions of patenting a new embalming method.
He also had an inscription from a girl named Lucy, who wrote "Good luck in the Navy, and don't forget my address." The crowd chuckled.
"He was a great man, a born leader, a gentleman," "Buzzy" Heinrich said. "He was the best of the best."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.