It was with great sadness that I heard the news of the passing of my friend and mentor, Larry Saunders. I had the good fortune of working with him during my tenure as chief with Lakewood Fire Department.
Many police and fire chiefs have good working relationships, and Larry and I clearly had that. However, Larry was different. He was the right guy, at the right time, and at the right place. Lakewood’s mayor at the time, Bill Harrision, recognized Larry’s attributes, and he intuitively knew the change he could incite in Lakewood as its first police chief.
Larry was first and foremost a good cop. Aside from the competence and intelligence he displayed, he had something else required to execute what he needed to do: personality and a lack of fear to be self-deprecating when the occasion required it.
That is where the police/fire relationship in Lakewood tended to fly a little higher than it did in other communities. Larry figured out numerous ways for us to challenge each other for benefit of the community. Be it the annual “Guns and Hoses” basketball game, the Chamber Police/Fire chili cook-off (where the loser had to wash the winner’s car dressed in a Speedo; he lost that year), or participating with him in an “Iron Chiefs” cook-out (I lost that one), Larry always looked for ways to interact with our community.
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Larry’s serious side paid off for Lakewood. Crime was reduced (among that statistic was a direct reduction of fires in some critical neighborhoods in Lakewood), the police and fire departments worked together to create a water rescue program for our numerous lakes (a subject of “turf battle” in other communities), people got to know their police department (a culture he established which continues today), and our citizens and our police officers saw the best possible example of a “servant leader” (as his nephew pointed out online).
When you talked to Larry, you simply felt you were the most important person in the room. Lakewood needed him, and we received his best.
Our community and our officers learned from this good man. We will all miss him.
Paul Webb retired in 2007 after serving eight years as Lakewood fire chief.