UNION COUNTY, Fla. - Family, friends and members of the Union County community gathered Saturday afternoon for the funeral of Sheriff Jerry Whitehead, who died Wednesday at the age of 60 after a brief illness.
This comes one day after hundreds gathered at the First Christian Church to pay respects to Whitehead at his viewing - many unable to get a seat inside Friday afternoon.
"The community of Lake Butler, the state of Florida, the Florida Sheriff's Association has lost a great person, a great friend and a great mentor," said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kevin Blom, a childhood friend of Whitehead's.
Bill Lennon has known the Whiteheads for more than 40 years, since they first moved to Union County. He says Whitehead and his family were the first to welcome him to his new home.
"They encouraged us to settle here permanently," said Lennon. "He and his family were one of the reasons we did."
Deputies and sheriffs from multiple neighboring counties, including Columbia, Bradford and Baker, were attending the viewing.
They remember Whitehead not only for being a great sheriff, but for his kindness and his way with people.
"He always had an open-door policy at the Sheriff's Office," Blom said. "You could come in the Sheriff's Office early in the morning. Jerry would be sitting in the office and his door was always open to everybody."
Lt. Kevin Blom is still in shock over Whitehead's sudden death. The two had been friends since they were in little league.
"His family ties and roots in Union County run very deep. He's taken care of the people in Union County," Blom said.
Whitehead's funeral is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the church. Burial will follow at Whitehead Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches Inc., P.O. Box 2000, Boys Ranch, FL 32064.
"Ann and I are saddened by the passing of Sheriff Whitehead," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement Thursday. "He was a sheriff's sheriff. Sheriff Whitehead dedicated his life to protecting the families of Union County, and we are grateful for his nearly 30 years of service as sheriff. Our hearts and prayers are with Sheriff Whitehead's family during this difficult time."
Whitehead was elected in 1984 and started serving Union County as sheriff in 1985. He was the longest-serving sheriff in the state of Florida.
He was admitted Tuesday to North Florida Medical Center and died from cardiac failure, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Chief Deputy Garry Seay was sworn in as acting Sheriff Wednesday night. His term will last until Jan. 17.
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