LAKE BUTLER, Fla. - A close-knit community said goodbye to their beloved sheriff, Jerry Whitehead at his funeral on Saturday afternoon in Lake Butler. He died Wednesday afternoon from heart failure.
Elected in 1984, Whitehead assumed office the following year, making him the longest serving sheriff in Florida history.
Saturday his extended family laid him to rest after as many as two thousand people came out for his funeral. That includes dozens of sheriffs from all over and Governor Scott.
Many in attendance of Whitehead's funeral said Saturday really marks the end of an era. He was honored, and will never be forgotten.
Helicopters were flown over the church, and dozens of cars and motorcycles led the way for the burial of a deeply loved man. For some, it was a very emotional experience.
"Just, so many people," former Union County resident Martha Washington said. "It just means a lot. Just the respect that is shown here today is just unbelievable."
Union County attorney Russ Wade said, "Anyone would come out here and respect someone this important to the community. But, I can guarantee almost everyone in that room felt that they were his personal friend. And they were."
As many as two thousand people were there to honor the late sheriff. This included Governor Rick Scott, sheriffs, deputies, and officers from counties all over the state.
Vernon Branch is a retired JSO officer and knew both Sheriff Whitehead and his father John since childhood. He says Jerry Whitehead was someone he looked up to.
"What he meant to me was, his education, his knowledge, his integrity," Branch said. "He went to the FBI Academy like I did, years back. He was a good, good, good fellow."
Sheriff Whitehead's personal vehicle was left parked in front of the church and the concern now is for the loved ones he leaves behind, which includes his wife and six children.
"The county has suffered a lot this year," Wade said. "One of the last things that the Sheriff had to handle was the shooting spree. Marvin Pritchett and the good people who worked for him. And no one saw this coming. It's a tragic loss loss."
Sheriff Whitehead was laid to rest in a cemetery just east of town. The community says it will surely take a long time to heal over the loss of such an inspirational man.
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