City officer remembered

Published 7:53 am Wednesday, June 24, 2009

FRANKLIN—Police officers of a variety of stripes and from several jurisdictions stood with family and friends at a packed memorial service Monday to say goodbye to their mentor, Sgt. Gary D. Falls.

“He lived every day to serve his community and his country,” Franklin Police Chief Phil Hardison told the audience. “His death is a great loss to the department and for this community. He will long be remembered. He loved this city and was grateful for the opportunity to serve here.”

Falls, who was to retire on July 1 after 37 years in law enforcement with several agencies, died on Thursday. According to his wife, Chyerl, a blood clot had formed in his leg sometime after he had double bypass surgery in February. The clot had cut off his circulation for too long, and he battled infection for the next 44 days with Chyerl at his bedside. Chyerl said that despite being on a ventilator, her husband was aware of what was going on around him.

“He liked working with the public, and he loved working with kids,” Chyerl said Monday afternoon from her home after the memorial service. Her husband had also served as a DARE officer in Isle of Wight County and a school resource officer in Franklin.

Falls was also a Vietnam veteran, having served from 1963 to 1966 with the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division and the 82nd Airborne Division.

According to Hardison, Falls served with the Norfolk Police Department from 1972 to 1979, the Smithfield Police Department from March to August 1979, the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office from September 1979 to December 1997, and the Franklin Police Department since March 1998.

“Gary Falls was a formidable force to be reckoned with if the situation demanded it,” Hardison said. “He would never hesitate to do what was needed when a violent offender tried to call his hand.”

The chief cited Falls’ bravery during an incident in Norfolk in 1976. On March 10 of that year, Hardison said, Falls entered a building where a gunman armed with a shotgun was firing at police and held three people hostage. Falls was able to rescue the hostages unharmed and was awarded a Distinguished Service Award medal for his actions.

“Gary loved his work, and he loved his family,” Hardison said. “He was modest about his own accomplishments, but was quick to boast about the accomplishments of (his family).”

The Rev. Keith Rose echoed that sentiment during the eulogy.

“I’m telling you today, as his loved ones and his friends, Gary’s heart was right,” Rose said. “Gary made it right with the Lord. I thank God for the opportunity to have known such a wonderful man.”

Across town, Falls’ former police cruiser — wrapped in a black sash — sat atop a small hill in front of the Franklin Police Department headquarters on Pretlow Street. A bevy of flower baskets and stuffed animals lined the windshield and flanked the front tires of the cruiser. Traffic along Pretlow slowed as it passed by the memorial.

“I’ve known him for 20 years,” Sgt. Mark Cornell of the Franklin Police Department said outside the funeral home. “He was a mentor for most of us when we started in law enforcement, myself included. He was a great man, and he will be sorely missed.”