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Epilogue | John Welch

Retired Clearwater police Officer John Welch was a stickler to rules

CLEARWATER — As soon as he stepped inside his home, Officer John Welch took his shoes off. He set his keys and wallet on the table just inside the door.

The gun went into a locked cabinet. The belt landed on his dresser; the hat on a closet shelf.

He repeated these same steps over nearly 20 years as a Clearwater police officer. "There is a place for everything, and everything belongs in its place," Mr. Welch told his children.

But some things could not be so neatly put away. Mr. Welch survived an explosion in the Navy that killed fellow seamen. He escaped other dangerous situations as a firefighter and police officer. His family suspects some of those experiences left scars.

Mr. Welch, whose traumatic experiences made him a stickler for rules and routines — sometimes to a fault — died March 1 of lung cancer. He was 75.

Mr. Welch was below deck on the U.S.S. Bennington in 1954 when a catapult exploded. The blast set off other explosions, killing 103 crewmen and injuring 201 in one of the worst peacetime disasters in marine history.

"From then on he was very claustrophobic," said his daughter, Terese Hilliard.

Out of the Navy, Mr. Welch married and had children in New York. He worked for Mobil and volunteered as a firefighter. He wanted to be a police officer there, but he was considered too short at 5 feet 7, his family said.

In 1964, a burning furniture store collapsed on top of him while he was in the basement. He was hospitalized as much for psychological damage as physical. "The sounds, the water and the darkness absolutely panicked him to no end," said Hilliard, 52.

Mr. Welch moved to Florida in 1968 to join the Clearwater Police Department, which had no height restriction.

He wrote reams of parking tickets — so many that police Chief Sid Klein took away his summons book in 1985, citing his "lack of judgmental ability in the reasonable enforcement of parking violations."

In the mid 1980s, Mr. Welch was entered into a psychiatric hospital. He applied for a disability pension on his release, saying he lacked the confidence to carry a gun anymore. The request eventually succeeded.

Mr. Welch seemed to find contentment over the last decade, in part through a new set of routines. Every day at 3 p.m., he drove a golf cart to Eternal Rest Memory Park to visit his wife's grave. He always brought peanuts for the squirrels.

His daughter believes the traumas he suffered earlier in his life contributed to his strict and sometimes unreasonable adherence to rules and routines.

"Life was always about fulfilling his duties," she said. "A lot of the time, he was very black-and-white. It was kind of hard for him to look at those gray areas."

>>Biography

John Welch

Born: Sept. 23, 1934.

Died: March 1, 2010.

Survivors: Daughter Terese Hilliard; Sons John, William and Edward Welch; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Retired Clearwater police Officer John Welch was a stickler to rules 03/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 9:28pm]

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