On his first night patrolling for Thibodaux Police in 1991, Calvin Cooks quickly turned around to pursue a driver with an expired inspection tag.
His training officer, Jerry Wyeth, joked that he almost fell out of his seat and wondered aloud if the driver was a murder suspect.
Cooks said that lighthearted spirit never left Wyeth.
"One thing he taught me is how to treat people, to be a people person," Cooks said. "He was a very humble guy, and he was well-liked. This guy made you laugh every day. Everything that came out of his mouth was something funny. Usually when you're first starting, you're a little nervous. I didn't get nervous. I just felt comfortable being in his presence."
Wyeth died Wednesday in Arkansas at age 72. He had returned to his home state following his retirement from the Thibodaux Police Department, where he worked from 1988 to 2004. He last served as assistant police chief.
Cooks said Wyeth was always respectful and he never heard him yell. He encouraged younger officers to try to learn where people were coming from instead of focusing solely on arrests.
"Jerry taught me it's not always about that," Cooks said. "There's going to be times when you have to write a ticket or you have to make an arrest, but there's also times you can counsel people. Maybe there's something going on in their life and they want to talk about it."
Craig Melancon and Wyeth were hired on together at the Police Department and became fast friends. Wyeth served as a pallbearer at Melancon's daughter's funeral.
"You meet people in your life sometimes and you just like each other," Melancon said. "Our careers paralleled. We worked the road together, we went into detectives together. When I went in as chief of police, Jerry was one of the first promotions we made. He did a fantastic job."
Melancon described Wyeth as a kind, bright man with a knack for communicating. Wyeth was dependable and missed few days of work, Melancon said.
"He represented us well," he said. "If Jerry was the principal investigator or even the principal speaker at an event, I always felt good about his ability to handle things and keep people calm."
When Wyeth married, he took his wife's son, Ashley Kimel, as his own. Kimel, who was 4 years old at the time, said Wyeth treated him the same as his biological son, Saxton.
"He was really like my second father," Kimel said. "He raised me as if I was his son, referred to me as his oldest. (He influenced) the way I treat people, especially the way I treat my girlfriend now. Everything I do, as far as the way I treat her, I learned from the way he treated my mother. He treated her with respect and would go out of his way to do things for her."
Wyeth had a silly sense of humor, once putting on a Frankenstein mask and knocking on the window as Kimel ate.
But he also had a deep love for his family. After Kimel's last football game at E.D. White Catholic High School, Wyeth was on the field crying and telling Kimel how proud he was even though the team had lost.
"He became then the person that I would talk to about a lot of things," Kimel said. "It just brought us closer together."
Wyeth served in the Navy in Vietnam. His niece, Allison Lyons, said he received a Bronze Star for pulling men out of the line of fire during an attack on his platoon and a Purple Heart for taking shrapnel to the face and back in a separate incident.
Lyons said Wyeth fell in love with Thibodaux while visiting family.
"He loved the people, the small-town community, how friendly everyone was," Lyons said. "He saw the (Catholic) school system me and my brothers attended and wanted that for his children."
She said her uncle always had a joke ready but was also caring and thoughtful.
"He'd make you laugh. It didn't matter what the situation was," she said. "You never saw him in a bad mood. Always compassionate toward people, had the biggest heart, always wanted to help people. He took life so lightly. I never, ever saw him mad."
-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.