BRANDON — He was still a young man, just 45 years old, and had always taken good care of himself. So Malcolm Llewellyn didn't worry too much about his flu. He went to work every day at the Orient Road Jail, went on a motorcycle ride with his fiancee and continued making plans for their wedding later this month.
But the symptoms got much worse, so he went to the hospital. Two weeks later, on April 7, Llewellyn, a Hillsborough County sheriff's sergeant, died.
What he thought was the flu turned out to be advanced, aggressive leukemia.
"I've never had anything in my life pass through my fingers as quickly as he did," said his fiancee, Mary Ann Barrow. "He was probably the finest man I have ever met in my life. He found good in all. In all."
Other than a four-year stint in the Marines, Sgt. Llewellyn spent his career with the Sheriff's Office. In recent years, he was in charge of a section of the Orient Road Jail that housed up to 512 inmates.
He was known among his colleagues for an ability to calm inmates by treating them with dignity.
"Jails are different than prisons," Barrow said.
"They're transitional facilities. Anybody can end up in jail, and they're scared because they're in an unfamiliar place and a lot of times they're angry.
He just had a way of calming them down and defusing their anger."
Although he took his work seriously, he was known for pranks and practical jokes that helped boost colleagues' morale. One time, Barrow said, Sgt. Llewellyn filled a colleague's umbrella with scraps from the office paper punch, then closed the umbrella. The next rainy day, the colleague's wife borrowed the umbrella.
"She was wet, and then she opened the umbrella and got covered in all these little paper dots," Barrow said.
Sgt. Llewellyn had married another corrections officer, and they divorced a few years ago after 15 years together. They had one son, Alex, now 7 years old.
"His whole life was his work and his little boy," said his brother Robert.
He and his ex-wife remained good friends. He got to know his fiancee, Barrow, while she was going through a divorce of her own.
"He had a good divorce, and I was in the middle of a very bitter one," she said. "He kept telling me, 'Don't go down to his level. Bring him up to your level.' That was typical of him. He wouldn't let people drag him down. He'd pull them up."
No one who was close to Sgt. Llewellyn suspected he had cancer. And even after the diagnosis of leukemia, family members thought his tenacious spirit would pull him through.
"He fought it," his brother said. "He fought it with everything he had."
But the disease proved too strong even for Sgt. Llewellyn. He died exactly three weeks before his wedding date.
"I guess it was time for him to be somebody else's angel," his fiancee said.
Besides his brother, fiancee and son, Sgt. Llewellyn is survived by his mother Maureen.
Marty Clear is a freelance writer in Tampa. He can be reached at [email protected]