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Deputy retires with lifetime of tales to tell

If he hadn't become a Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy, Bud Fisher could have become a preacher. He has the voice for it. It's a rich baritone delivered with the soothing cadence of a southern drawl. It can befriend antagonists, calm the hysterical and revive the weary.

Fisher's voice is perfect for telling stories, which is a good thing because at the end of a 21-year career with the Sheriff's Office, Fisher, 51, has a whole lot of stories to tell.

There's the one about the drag-racing siblings, whose two-mile head-to-head sprint down Anderson Road in October ended when Fisher was able to pull past both of them.

Fisher remarked dryly to the sister that their mother wouldn't be pleased when she learned of the arrests. The sister pointed to the older woman seated next to her in the front seat and introduced Fisher to her mother.

And there's the one where Fisher was breaking in a trainee from the police academy. Fisher was in uniform, but the trainee was wearing his street clothes.

They were told to take a mental patient to the hospital for treatment.

"He was really crazy, but he was really funny," Fisher remembers, finding a redeeming characteristic that others might have overlooked.

Once at the hospital, the attendant asked Fisher which of the two men in civilian clothes was there for evaluation. Before Fisher could answer, the crazy man pointed to the trainee and said, "Him."

Always game for a gag, Fisher agreed, and the attendant moved toward the trainee.

"It's not me!" the trainee protested.

"That's what they all say," the attendant said.

Delusions of grandeur

The body of Bud Fisher lore began to grow almost immediately upon his arrival at the Sheriff's Office in the early 1970s.

James Walker, his former training officer who is now a captain, recalls the time Fisher got him punched in the face.

Walker and Fisher found a man lying in the middle of State Road 60 in Brandon.

The man, apparently suffering delusions of grandeur, told the deputies he was Superman. Not to worry, he said, the passing trucks couldn't even muss his hair, much less hurt him.

They pulled Superman from the road anyway and the man, who turned out to be a mental patient from Tarpon Springs, quickly tried on another personality: professional boxer.

This begged the question: What was the man's best punch? The man answered, "right hook," and proved it with a sample swipe that connected solidly with Walker's chin.

But don't get the wrong idea. Fisher's career in law enforcement, which included stints with the Florida Highway Patrol and the Tampa Police Department, was not just a stand-up comedy routine performed in uniform.

"Doctor Fisher's here'

When he was a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in South Florida, Fisher saved the life of an asthmatic baby by placing the child's face up to the cold air vent in his cruiser.

As a school resource officer at Dowdell Junior High, he befriended a troubled 14-year-old named Lance, who spent as much time in the principal's office as the principal did.

When he found the boy living with his family in a squalid tent off U.S. Highway 301, Fisher decided to bring the boy home to live for several weeks. The experiment failed when Lance started taking drugs.

Fisher saw a close friend and fellow patrolman die after a burglar shot him once in the chest on New Year's Eve in 1965.

He was just outside the store when he heard the shots. Inside, he saw his friend on the ground. "I told him, "Don't worry Doctor Fisher's here,"' he remembers saying to him.

"I never worked New Year's after that."

An uncommon touch

Fisher came from a poor family in Tampa. His mother made his shirts out of feed sacks, which he is not embarrassed to admit.

At 17, he joined the Air Force. He decided on a job in law enforcement when he realized the pay at the Tampa Police Department was better than at the telephone company or Tampa Electric.

Fisher married his first love, Patti, now 49. They are still married and still in love

In 1987, he and Patti opened Law Enforcement Checkpoint, a supply store on Kennedy Boulevard for police, deputies and highway troopers. Along with professional equipment, Fisher dispenses healthy doses of wisdom.

His philosophy is simple: "Everybody deserves the same break in life. Everybody deserves the same law."

Since 1987, Fisher has worked as an administrative deputy at the District 3 Sheriff's Office on Hutchinson Road. He has served as the institutional memory for the office and as a mentor for younger deputies.

"He was my inspiration," said sheriff's Deputy Craig Darlak, an eight-year veteran. "To me, he's a legend in law enforcement and a true gentleman in all respects."

Walker recalls the two months he spent riding with Fisher as "one of the better times of my life." He wonders now who was training whom.

"He has enlightened and entertained all of us," Walker said.

Fisher has always insisted on treating everyone the same, regardless of race, background or economic standing.

For several years, Fisher fielded nightly calls from Margaret Crooks, affectionately dubbed the "Cookie Lady" because she bought cookies for the deputies each Christmas.

"That's over 900 cookies." Fisher said of Crooks after her death. "You know she can't afford anything like that. She never asked for anything in return but conversation."

A fitting finale

There will be no more Deputy Fisher stories. With his retirement Friday, the stories have officially become legend.

Fisher's final exit from the Sheriff's Office had all his trademark touches: a showman's sense of timing and a spectacle meant for the enjoyment of the crowd as much as himself.

Just after 2:15 p.m., a white stretch limousine pulled into the parking lot of the Sheriff's Office on Hutchinson Road.

From the back seat, two women appeared in bikinis and stiletto heels. They sashayed to the door, linked arms with Fisher, who was dressed in a conservative blue suit, and walked back to the limo.

Cameras clicked, deputies hooted, and Fisher looked over his shoulder with a smile.

"Goodbye," he said. "You'll never see me again."

He was drinking champagne when the limo pulled away.