LARGO — Michael Renault was bagging groceries at a Winn-Dixie when his calling clicked.
A thief came into the store and robbed the cash register. Michael, always mischievous, always sneaking out of his window at night, sought adventure and feared nothing.
He also knew right from wrong. At 16, he took off chasing the bad guy.
He had cowboy instincts, raised on a diet of outer space westerns like Star Wars and Star Trek. He collected John Wayne movies and memorabilia.
He loved to fish and play laser tag in the middle of the night with his younger brother, Jason. He was unfailingly loyal, a good man to have on your team.
"He was someone I always looked up to," said Jason Renault, 33. "He was about as much of a big brother as you can ask for. I kind of idolized him in way."
After college, he joined the Largo Police Department, climbing to become a lieutenant. He was tough to crack, a man of deep voice and few words, said his wife, Jennifer Renault, a fellow Largo police officer. Some people were intimidated.
When they first met, "He paid no attention to me," she said. "That was our big joke. But then he really helped me out, showing me what to do. He was just very genuine and always made me feel special."
Lt. Renault received a medal of valor for climbing a fire ladder to get a suicidal man off the roof of a building, she said. Other times, he endured dog bites while trying to catch criminals.
He was an ace at poker, golfing, hunting, playing softball and fantasy football.
He hated to lose.
"Oh, yeah, he was a sore loser," said his wife. "Mike Renault was a sore loser. Everyone will tell you that."
Underneath, there was a soft man who wanted a huge family. He played and caught bugs with his sons, Hunter and Luke. He took them to ball games but curtailed his competitive side so they'd know it was fine to lose.
He yearned for a little girl.
"He wanted the princess," his wife said. "He wanted to be the dad to walk her down the aisle."
Eleven months ago, Hannah Renault was born. Lt. Renault sat and listened to a country song called I Loved Her First. He teared picturing his daughter in a white dress. But three months later, he got staggering news — he had stomach cancer. His family and friends rallied. His fellow officers raised money and shaved their heads in solidarity.
As he ailed, he prayed and wrote in journals. He wanted his children to graduate, to get married, to travel. He wished they'd have fearless adventures and find their callings.
Lt. Renault died Tuesday. He was 37.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.