Former St. Petersburg assistant police chief-turned-media spokesman Bill Proffitt seemed to have it all figured out, from the most challenging situations facing the police department to the little things, like office celebrations.
He had this thing for cake, recalled longtime friend and former major Mike Puetz, who worked with Mr. Proffitt in the St. Petersburg Police Department’s media relations office.
“It kind of became a standard joke, we ended up taking pictures of him shoveling cake in his mouth,” Puetz said. “When the moment was right, he’d come swooping in and grab a piece with the biggest amount of frosting.”
Mr. Proffitt was known for his quick-witted humor and “mock(ing) people with love,” said his son Seth Proffitt. At office parties, his father wore funny hats and cracked few jokes, and nothing stopped him from being one of the first in line for cake.
But he was also known for his ear, friends said. He’d always hear someone out before offering sound advice.
He died June 12 at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital in Jasper, Ga. He was 64.
Mr. Proffitt spent 37 years with the St. Petersburg Police Department, rising from patrol officer to assistant chief, where he oversaw investigations. He retired in 2001, then returned to run the Community Awareness Division and Media Relations Office from 2003 to 2014.
For 11 years he was the department spokesman, briefing the media at crime scenes and handling some of St. Petersburg’s toughest situations, such as the deaths of three officers in 2011.
His death felt like “a ton of bricks falling on you" said Assistant Police Chief Michael Kovacsev, another longtime friend.
Born in 1955 in Alexandria, Va., Mr. Proffitt moved to Florida at the age of 2. He attended the University of South Florida and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology with Dave Hawkins, a former major.
“We were friends for 33 years,” Hawkins said, “but we were more like brothers.”
The two met at USF and started building a friendship in 1987. They were both already married when they started attending school together part-time to keep up with their official duties and support their families.
Hawkins said he immediately recognized Mr. Proffitt’s work ethic and reputation.
College brought out the competitive side in them. They’d compete against each other for the highest grades. Mr. Proffitt beat out Hawkins in a social behavior psychology class in their master’s program, earning an A while Hawkins got a B.
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“Other than that we pretty much even,” Hawkins said. “When I might be higher one time, he’d be higher the next.”
Mr. Proffitt was one of the Tampa Bay area’s first police explorers — an offshoot program through the Boy Scouts of America — joining the inaugural class in 1971. Four years later, he was hired as a St. Petersburg police officer on June 24, 1975.
At age 19, he was old enough to buy a gun —but not yet old enough to buy ammunition.
On Jan. 19, 2001, he retired as an assistant police chief. About two years later, he re-joined the police department as the community awareness manager. He stayed in that position until he retired for a second time on April 12, 2014.
Kovacsev said Mr. Proffitt was someone who always knew how to handle the most challenging situations.
“He seemed to have the answers for everything that either he’d been through it, or just his tenure and his calmness.”
Puetz, who led the homicide unit before becoming Mr. Proffitt’s assistant in media relations, and remembered that when he spoke, everyone listened.
“Everybody who worked for him just loved him,” Puetz said. “He ran a tight ship and he just had a lot of integrity.”
Mr. Proffitt also helped St. Petersburg in other ways. He was one of the four managers running the Helping Hands 4 St. Pete’s Finest, a nonprofit which helped law enforcement families.
The program was launched after three police officers were killed in the line of duty in the span of 28 days in 2011. Mr. Proffitt, Kovacsev, Donna Law and Barbara Heck ran it until they parted ways. Mr. Proffitt moved to Georgia after his second retirement in 2014. The program was rolled into the Heroes Foundation, which helps police officers and firefighters in St. Petersburg.
In his free time, Mr. Proffitt enjoyed the outdoors. He and Hawkins hunted together and collected knives, and Mr. Proffitt was a good marksman. When he wasn’t outdoors, he was playing his guitar for fun or at church.
Family was important to him. He and his wife, Paula Proffitt, 63, had a son, Seth, 40, and a daughter Abby, 31. Later the couple adopted a grandchild, William, now 9. The couple also had five grandchildren and one on the way.
“(My dad) had more ‘I love you daddy’ drawings (from William) than John Wayne posters,” joked Seth Proffitt.
The son said that eight years ago he drove to Georgia to talk to his father about a “huge mistake” he had made.
They sat down together in Jasper, Ga., and talked. But before the son could say anything, Seth Proffitt said his father told him something that described his father’s love for others better than anything else:
"I’m the worst sinner I know, according to (the apostle, Saint) Peter,” his father told him. “There’s nothing you could say to me, that I would think less of you, or think that I was better than you.”
• • •
William “Bill” C. Proffitt
Born: Dec. 17, 1955
Died: June 12, 2020
Survivors: wife Paula Proffitt, sons Seth Proffitt and William Proffitt, daughter Abby McGee and grandchildren, Jameson, Nicholas, Luka, Joey, Greyson and a child on the way.
Services: The family is holding a private graveside ceremony Friday at Old Macedonia Cemetery in White, Ga. There will no ceremony in St. Petersburg. Cards can be sent to St. Petersburg Police Headquarters, 1301 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg, FL 33705.