TAMPA — The legion of public officials, both current and retired, gathered under a bright sun Wednesday morning in Ybor City, sweating in dark suits and white, neatly pressed sheriff's uniforms.
They were there to honor one of their own, a man they said left a mark on the county he served as a sheriff and the state he helped lead as a legislator. Amid the fanfare, Malcolm Beard watched humbly as a curtain rose atop the main entrance to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office operations center, revealing his name newly adorning the building.
The 94-year-old former lawman and politician, whose career spanned more than half a century, sat alongside his wife, Mary Ellen, in the front row of about 150 who attended the short ceremony, including Sheriff David Gee and former Sheriff Cal Henderson. Beard spoke little of the honor, saying he was stunned a month ago when he was told the building would be named for him.
"I was totally surprised that it was happening," he said. "I always thought old politicians were like day-old newspapers. They were forgotten about."
But to hear those who spoke at the ceremony, there are plenty of people who remember Sheriff Beard and his lifetime of service.
It began in the 1940s when Beard worked as a Tampa police officer. That led to his election as constable for Hillsborough County in 1957, where he served until 1964 when he was first elected sheriff.
In the 14 years that followed, he shepherded the fledgling agency through a period of immense growth. He watched the Sheriff's Office transform from a largely rural agency to one serving a metropolitan area.
"He's the guy who got it all started," said Sheriff Gee. "There are things we take for granted now that are things he began."
Among those things, Gee said, was the creation of the sheriff's crime scene unit and the establishment of the building that now bears his name.
He left the office in 1978 — the same year Gee began his career — upon his election to the Florida House of Representatives. He later served in the state Senate, retiring in 1996.
Former Sen. John Grant spoke of his colleague as a man of integrity, one who did what he felt was right, no matter the political cost.
"His word was his bond," Grant said. "You didn't need anything in writing from Malcolm Beard."