CLEARWATER — Once you met Willis Booth, you had a friend and a mentor for life.
Tim Moore remembers meeting Mr. Booth briefly at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He was a "nobody" and yet after their brief encounter, Mr. Booth sat him down in the break room. The two talked.
"He let me know what p’s and q’s to mind," Moore said. "And then he became my strongest supporter."
Mr. Booth, who was part of the McMullen and Booth pioneer families, died Aug. 2. He was 93.
Mr. Booth served in the Marine Corps during World War II and after returning home, settled into the Clearwater Police Department where he moved up the ranks. He was chief from 1957-1968.
Current Chief Dan Slaughter said he met Mr. Booth when he was being inducted into the inaugural Law Enforcement Hall of Fame in 2016. Tension in the community with officers was high. The unrest in Ferguson had happened just two years prior and Mr. Booth reminded Slaughter to put the community first and to keep building relationships within it.
"It’s about doing the job and treating people right and doing it fairly and impartially," Slaughter said. "It was smart advice to give."
After retiring from Clearwater PD, Mr. Booth moved to Tallahassee in 1968 to serve with the FDLE where he started as served as Special Agent, director of criminal investigations and director of mutual aid helping establish police standards. He retired again in 1984 from the state to take up leadership at the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
Amy Mercer didn’t know Mr. Booth before taking over as executive director of FPCA. Yet, at the end of every phone call, he would tell her how proud he was.
She said he was one of those rare individuals who was special, and had one of the highest integrity levels out there.
"Knowing a man of his caliber has served in the same position I am, always sticks in my mind," Mercer said. "I need to make sure I’m doing my job with the highest ethical standards that Willis Booth did."
Mr. Booth didn’t just adore his community but also his family.
When his granddaughter, Rachel Roe, was just 6 years old, her parents split. Roe and her mom moved in with Mr. Booth who provided "a place of peace and a place of safety" to a first-grader whose life had been turned upside down. She said he was someone to look at for strength, even when his strength was being tested.
"He put his country and the citizens of the state of Florida and his family before himself," Roe said. "He understood what it was to give more than to receive and that when you give to not expect anything in return."
Contact McKenna Oxenden at [email protected] Follow @mack_oxenden