Former Southold police Chief Joseph Sawicki Sr., a 30-year department veteran who also helped mentor the political career of his son, Suffolk's comptroller, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 84.
Sawicki died Saturday at San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Greenport surrounded by his family.
Sawicki joined the town police in 1951 when it was a six-member department. In the 1960s, he served as acting police chief for five years and later headed the new detective squad, a unit he led for more than a dozen years until he retired in 1981.
"He was just a man of the highest caliber -- a real gentleman," said former Riverhead police Chief Joseph Grattan, who grew up in Southold and knew Sawicki. Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki Jr. said his father repeatedly gave him the same advice throughout his career: "He said, 'In politics you're going to be faced with a lot of temptations, but just stay honest and do the right thing.' "
The elder Sawicki campaigned for his son when he ran for State Assembly in 1982 against Democratic Southold Supervisor William Pell.
"He and mom went around with a big sign in the back of their pickup truck and they worked Southold for me," said Sawicki, who won a major upset, including an unexpected 200-vote margin in Southold, where Pell was best known.
"Dad loved to dabble in politics and he was my mentor at the grassroots level," his son said. "And he didn't hesitate to tell me what I was doing wrong or what I was doing right." Sawicki's other son, Bill, is a 30-year Southold police veteran, where he is a lieutenant.
A lifelong Southold resident, Sawicki was the youngest of six children whose parents emigrated from Poland and moved to the North Fork, where they owned a 100-acre farm. Big for his age, he joined the Southold Fire Department as a teen.
During his first year on the police force, Sawicki met his wife, Connie, who spent summer weekends in Greenport while working in Roslyn Heights during the week. "Every time I turned around, he was there in the police car or walking the beat," she said. "Then he asked me out to a dance and that's how it started." The couple celebrated their 60th anniversary in the fall.
After retiring, Sawicki became a Southold Zoning Board of Appeals member. He was a 60-year member of the Southold Fire Department, chief from 1955 to 1957, and fire commissioner for 15 years.
Survivors include his wife and two sons, all of Southold; daughter Lisa Reinking of Atlanta.; a sister, Helen Krupski, of Cutchogue; and three grandchildren.
A wake will be held Tuesday at De Friest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Southold. Burial will follow at the church cemetery.