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Date of Issue: June 07, 2007

Island loses a great resource: Officer Lannon

Lannon visitation, funeral,
Visitation for Holmes Beach Police Officer Pete Lannon, who died June 1, will be 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, at Brown and Sons Funeral Home, 604 43rd St. W., Bradenton.

A funeral Mass will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Catholic Church, 2850 75th St. W., Bradenton.

The Mass will be followed by a procession to Manasota Memorial Park, 1221 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton.

Immediately following the burial, the family and the HBPD will welcome guests to a reception at the Elks Lodge No. 1511, 2511 75th St. W., Bradenton.
'I don't think we'll ever be able to replace him. How do you fill those shoes?' - Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

"I'm sure he wants [the kids] to remember his teachings, aspire to be great caring adults and strive to achieve their highest goals. Reach for their dreams...." - Debra Lannon
Learning to cope
On learning Friday morning that "Officer Pete" Lannon had died, Joselin Presswood set out "all on her own" with chalk in hand to remember him in her own way, with a drawing of Officer Lannon on top of the world, surrounded by figures of the artist, now a fifth-grader at Anna Maria Elementary, and her friends, Elena, Josh, Holly, Ricky and Tori. The artwork is on the sidewalk at The Islander newspaper office. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

If the soft rain and gray clouds weren't enough to dampen Island spirits Friday, June 1, the news of Holmes Beach Police Officer Pete Lannon's passing put many in a somber mood.

Lannon was a fixture at Anna Maria Elementary School for seven years, where he taught students much more than just Drug Awareness Resistance Education until illness prevented his return last fall.

He's been more than just a school resource officer at AME, he has been an active member of the Island community. Many who didn't know Lannon personally still looked forward to being greeted with a smile and friendly wave as they passed the school where he was the crossing guard for more than five years.

Lannon's presence in front of the school was noticeably absent shortly after the start of the 2006-07 school year and news soon followed that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Following his diagnosis in October 2006, the Island community banded together, planning several fundraisers including a spaghetti dinner and walk-a-thon to support his family as Lannon began radiation treatment to shrink the size of the pancreatic tumor. He also received small doses of intravenous chemotherapy drugs to help make the tumor cells receptive to the radiation.

The illness caught people by surprise, especially his family. At 48 years old and having overall good health, doctors weren't looking for anything so drastic when Lannon began complaining of back pain earlier last year.

Wife Debra, whom Pete called his "rock," says, "He put up a great fight even though we knew the odds were against us with pancreatic and liver cancer.

"The past few weeks have been hectic to say the least," she continued. "I was lucky enough that my work-place, Lakewood Ranch Medical Women's Center, was able to give me as much time off as I needed to care for Pete. I kept him at home as long as I could care for him safely. Tuesday night was a very restless, uncomfortable night for him, so Wednesday morning I decided to place him in the Ellenton Hospice House. They made him very comfortable and at peace.

"His friends and family visited him at all hours and his family was there at his passing. I was wondering why he was hanging on so long," she said, "then I remembered it was his mother's birthday June 1. He waited until 36 minutes after midnight [to die]."

Lannon's fighting spirit and infallible positive outlook as he battled this challenge in the public eye only made him more of a positive role model for the community. Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine spent some time with Lannon shortly before his death and noted that although he wasn't quite his "normal self" he was "joking and keeping his spirits up as much as possible."

Lannon joined the Holmes Beach Police Department after moving to the area from North Carolina and taught the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program at AME. Tim Kolbe was the principal when Lannon began his school duties.

"From the moment he walked into the school you just knew, it's hard to pinpoint, but you just knew he was a good guy," said Kolbe. "I remember I'd look out my window and there he'd be walking in. He was so friendly - not a mean bit in his spirit - and he never changed. We considered him part of our staff."

"We already miss him," said Jamie Walstad, AME parent and friend. "He always wanted to be involved. He was a great leader and friend. He was an angel to us here and I know he'll be an angel in heaven."

"I am not sad for Pete," said Joy Murphy, AME Parent-Teacher Organization president and family friend. "Pete is in a better place and his pain is gone. I am sad for his family; all those who loved him and those who will not get a chance to know this wonderful man. Our community has lost a tremendous asset. The Island is going to be missing a little bit of its sunshine without Pete. It won't be the same to drive by the school and not see his smiling face or not see him on summer patrol on his bike.

"Pete loved with all his heart and gave everything with no reserve. Our school and our community were blessed with him for just a short while. We will miss him greatly."

"I'm not sure I've ever seen an officer have a more positive effect on a community," said Romine. "He was here seven years but it feels like 70. I don't think we'll ever be able to measure what he meant to the school and all the kids on whom he has had an impact. I don't think we'll ever be able to replace him.

"How do you fill those shoes?"

Romine said that officers from across the country are planning to attend the June 6 funeral services, which will be a full law enforcement ceremony. In addition, Romine said he received a letter May 31 from the DARE program announcing that beginning in 2008 the statewide "DARE Officer of the Year" award will be named after Lannon, who was a recipient of the award in 2005.

"He stands for everything DARE would want in an officer," said Romine. "I think he'd want kids to remember that if you have a good attitude you can do anything."

"I want them to remember him as a fun-loving, vibrant man who had their best interests at heart," said wife Debra. "I'm sure he wants them to remember his teachings, aspire to be great caring adults and strive to achieve their highest goals. Reach for their dreams. And remember him as someone who really enjoyed life and lived for his work."

Debra said that the family is "holding up extremely well right now. We have surprised ourselves."

A funeral mass will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, at Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostle on 75th Street in Bradenton. Graveside services and burial will follow at Manasota Memorial Park, 1221 53rd St. E., Bradenton. "[The family] chose row 9, lot 58, for his birthday (March 9, 1958)," said Debra.

The Holmes Beach Police Department and the Lannon family announced that guests are welcome at a reception at the Elks Lodge No. 1511, 2511 75th St. W., Bradenton, immediately following the service at Manasota Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pete Lannon Memorial Fund at Wachovia Bank.

"He truly loved his AMI/AME community. I know he will miss it," Debra said. 


Candle light for Lannon

By Diana Bogan. Islander Reporter

There are many things I will remember about Officer Pete Lannon - his affinity for Superman, ability to create Etch-A-Sketch masterpieces, and how he liked to see blue lights in windows at Christmas.

Lannon related a story about the blue lights to me each year as we chatted casually about how we each celebrated the holiday and our family traditions.

According to Lannon, there is a tradition in which people place a blue light in their window during the winter holidays to let the police officers on duty know that their services are appreciated.

Rather than wait for the holidays, I plan to put a blue light or blue candle in my front window Wednesday, after his memorial service - just to let him know how much I have appreciated knowing him. I invite you to join me.


How to help kids cope with loss

Anna Maria Elementary School students have lost a mentor and teacher with the passing of School Resource Officer Pete Lannon. Lannon, a member of the Holmes Beach Police Department, served the community and the school for seven years. Not only was he a crossing guard, but also taught students about drug awareness.

"Officer Lannon would want the kids to keep their heads up, which is what we're all trying to do - it's tough," said Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

Anna Maria Elementary School counselor Cindi Harrison and licensed therapist Rosemarie Fisher of the Anna Maria Island Community Center have compiled 10 strategies for parents and guardians to speak with children about death and help guide them through the grieving process.

  • Be honest with children and use the word "death" rather than other things that will be harder for children to understand.
  • Relate death to the cycle of birth-life-death that is normal for all people and even for animals.
  • Use the faith context of "heaven" and life after death if this is your family's belief.
  • Invite your child to go to the funeral if they want to, but talk to them about what it will be like before you go so they will not be surprised that people are crying and that they may see a coffin. Do not force your child to go to a funeral.
  • In speaking about cancer, make it clear to your child that many people recover from cancer and do not die from it, but that there are some cancers that are so strong that the body cannot recover from the illness.
  • Know that this death may remind them of other deaths your family has experienced and they may have more questions because they were younger at the time those occurred.
  • Share positive memories about the person who has died, not just once, but often.
  • Talk about the person's qualities and strengths with your child and see how you can make them part of your lives as a way of keeping the person alive through memories.
  • Memorialize the person by planting a tree in your yard or some other symbol that creates a place of memory.
  • Put a picture of the person in the child's room to remember them.
  • If you see that your child is not sleeping or seems to have lost his/her appetite, consider counseling if symptoms last for more than a week. 

Harrison is available for counseling by calling Anna Maria Elementary School at 941-708-5527, and Fisher is also available for counseling through the Center, call 941-778-1908.