TAMPA — As an FBI agent who specialized in surveillance, Cyrus Falls worked in a lot of different places.
He dressed up to eavesdrop on bid rigging activity in a tony Washington, D.C., restaurant.
His 16 years in the FBI's Newark, N.J., office monitoring organized crime once took him into abandoned buildings, one wrong move away from a possible gunfight; and to other states as he tailed bad guys on the highway.
In Tampa, where he finished a 36-year career, he dressed like a tourist to watch communist bloc spies exchanging information at SeaWorld, witnessed drug transactions and shadowed remnants of the Trafficante crime family.
For long stretches of time in between, he drank coffee — and waited. In 21 years as an agent, he drew his weapon just once.
Mr. Falls, whose church activity and kindly demeanor earned him the nickname "Reverend" by his fellow FBI agents, died Nov. 20, of congestive heart failure. He was 79.
Mr. Falls was born in 1933 in Dunedin, the product of a farming family. As a student at Clearwater High, he heard an FBI agent speak and decided he wanted to join the bureau. He got his chance after high school, doing clerical work in the Washington, D.C., office. After two years in the Army, he reapplied and was later transferred to the Miami office.
In 1968, he took the first phone call notifying the FBI that Barbara Mackle, the daughter of a prominent south Florida developer, had been kidnapped. (Mackle, who was buried alive in a fiberglass box for three days, later wrote a book about her ordeal.)
Mr. Falls graduated from Florida Atlantic University, then underwent agent's training in 1969. He moved his family to New Jersey, where he followed organized crime.
"Being a redhead, he kind of stood out in an Italian neighborhood," his wife said. "Several times he was spotted. Some of the older crime family members, they would just smile and wave."
He moved to the Tampa office in the late 1980s, where fellow agents fondly called him "Reverend" and reminded him to stay beneath the bureau's weight limit. "He did not look like a typical FBI agent," said retired agent Robert Conrad, who worked with Mr. Falls in Tampa.
Their duties included a trip to Washington, D.C., over funny business with Navy contracts and surveilling the covert meetings between Eastern bloc agents in Florida theme parks.
"This was the old spy-versus-spy stuff," said Conrad, 74.
He retired in 1990 at the FBI's mandatory retirement age of 57.
Mr. Falls was active in his Methodist church, the Boy Scouts and the Suncoast chapter of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.