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"It's been a great career'

When it was Lanny Quinn's turn to speak, he swallowed hard and gave thanks.

He thanked his surgeon, Dr. Ernest Rehnke, "who's keeping me alive." His wife, Lisa, who "has endured so much." His sergeant, Gary Robbins, "the finest sergeant on the Police Department."

His words brought officers to tears.

"I don't really want to speak too much about my health issues because I'm not in the mood to cry," Quinn told the 130 people gathered Thursday at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. "I'm dealing with cancer the best way I can."

He didn't talk much about his recurring colon cancer. Quinn, 37, looking gaunt and weary, wanted to talk more about being a police officer. He got a two-hour pass from St. Anthony's Hospital on Thursday to accept one of the St. Petersburg Police Department's most prestigious awards, Officer of the Year.

The St. Petersburg Exchange Club and Charles and Odette Patterson Trust have bestowed the award for 38 years. This year's ceremony drew the largest audience in memory.

An officer for 15 years, Quinn was honored for his work in 2001 _ 10 months of which he worked while undergoing chemotherapy.

"There was never anything selfish in what he said," said police Chief Chuck Harmon, who has known Quinn for 15 years. "It was never about himself. Over the years, I grew to admire that."

Quinn's supervisor, Sgt. Robbins, wrote a four-page memorandum, nominating him for the award. Sixteen officers signed the last page. The signatures of 16 officers are on the last page.

"Officer Lanny Quinn is one of the most amazing officers I have witnessed in my 19 years with the Police Department," Robbins wrote.

Before the presentation, when Quinn received a plaque and $500 check, he made the rounds with his wife of 15 years, Lisa. She wore a red suit; he wore his Class A uniform.

Even with IV ports in his arm, Quinn had a sense of humor. He gave officers bear hugs. He rubbed another officer's shaved head. He teased one lieutenant for not wearing a uniform to the luncheon.

"Thanks for coming," Quinn told his friends.

After he accepted the award, he stood behind the lectern and talked about his 15-year career, his voice trembling.

At Florida State University, he dreamed of joining the FBI. But he ended up loving St. Petersburg.

"I'm a hometown boy," Quinn said.

His mother, father, brother and sister looked on from the audience.

One of the city's first community police officers, Quinn's beat is the University Park neighborhood, which runs from Fourth Street S to Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue S to First Avenue S.

He spoke proudly of shutting down 29 drug holes and teaching elderly residents how to carry their purses in public and not get robbed.

"It's been a great career," Quinn said.

Mary Ann Lynch, a resident who owns 22 properties, attended the luncheon. She said Quinn was an aggressive officer: He knocked on drug dealers' doors, introduced himself and told them he would not tolerate drug dealing in his area.

"He's perfect in every way," said Lynch, 41. "I've leaned on him a lot when this neighborhood wasn't as good as it was. He was right there for me."

Quinn was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2000 after seeing a doctor for bloating and stomach cramps. Two surgeries later, Quinn's large intestine and colon are gone. Through it all, he worked his police assignments. He investigated prostitution, driving the city streets in search of women who trade sex for drugs.

Now Quinn has chemotherapy injected directly into his abdomen, where the cancer has spread. He has lost more than 70 pounds.

He and his wife, who was by his side throughout the luncheon, remain hopeful. Quinn dedicated his award to her.

"I have him here today, and he's trying to get healthy, and that's important," said Mrs. Quinn, 37.

As guests left the banquet room, Quinn gathered his plaque, and a special token from the award sponsor, St. Petersburg resident Odette Patterson, 87. She gave him a crucifix of wood and pearl from Jerusalem.

He tucked it into his pocket and walked out of the yacht club with his family.