Norman W. Copeland, whom a judge once described as "a Norman Rockwell-type patrolman," died Wednesday at St. Francis Medical Center. He was 73.
Copeland served eight years as Cape Girardeau County sheriff, retiring in 1994. Before that he spent 29 years with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, earning in both jobs a reputation as a no-nonsense cop and adept criminal investigator.
In between, he worked for three years as head of security at St. Francis Medical Center.
"He was one of the finest sheriffs Cape Girardeau County ever had," said prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle. "You admired him the instant you met him. He had a presence that evoked confidence and respect."
Those sentiments were echoed by many, including the current sheriff, John Jordan, who met his future boss more than 20 years ago while Copeland was still with the highway patrol.
In March 1986 Copeland was asked to come out of retirement to serve as interim sheriff after the previous officeholder resigned amid a grand jury investigation.
He was credited with taking hold of an office in shambles and restoring public confidence. As a result, Copeland was elected to the remaining two years of the term and re-elected in 1988 and 1992.
He retired from law enforcement in the midst of his final term at the age of 66, citing health problems.
In 1996, the sheriffs department began giving out the Copeland Excellency awards, named to honor the former sheriff.
"He was a privilege to work for," Jordan said. "I always considered him as kind of a mentor."
He credits Copeland with beginning the modernization of the sheriff's department.
"Copeland was the epitome of everything law enforcement is supposed to be," Jordan said. "He commanded respect from those who liked him as well as those who didn't."
It was at Copeland's retirement dinner in 1994 that Missouri Appeals Court Judge Stanley Grimm called Copeland "a model law enforcement officer" and a living version of a Norman Rockwell painting.
More than 250 people turned out to pay their respects that night.
At the time, Copeland said, "I feel like I have left a good path for someone else to follow."
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Ford and Sons Funeral Home.