SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT
Officer Pete is surrounded by students following the conclusion of the DARE program in 2004.
By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer
Holmes Beach Police officer Pete Lannon, who became one of the Island’s most popular figures during his seven years as crossing guard and resource officer at Anna Maria Elementary School, died in hospice at 12:36 a.m. on Friday after a courageous battle against pancreatic cancer.
A visitation is scheduled on Tuesday, June 5, from 5 to 9 p.m. at Brown & Sons Funeral Home, 43rd Street West Chapel in Bradenton.
A funeral Mass will be held at Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Catholic Church, 2850 75th St. W., Bradenton, on Wednesday, June 6, at 1 p.m. There will be a procession to Manasota Memorial Park, 1221 53rd Ave. E., for burial following the Mass. A reception will be held immediately after the burial at the Elks Lodge, 2511 75th St. W., Bradenton.
In lieu of flowers, people are asked to contribute to the Pete Lannon Memorial Fund, account number 31862147, at Wachovia Bank.
Police, school officials, parents and anyone who knew him were in shock Friday, although it was not unexpected after news earlier in the week that the cancer was spreading. Lannon, 49, was moved from his home to hospice on Wednesday and died with his family around him.
"We’re devastated," said Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine, who left a county disaster conference Friday morning after learning of Lannon’s death. "Even when you know it’s coming, that doesn’t make it easier."
Romine hired Lannon in May 2000 to serve as the school resource officer, a position that began with a grant a couple of years earlier but was made a part of the force’s regular budget because Romine and the force felt it was something they could do for the children.
Born March 9, 1958, in Providence, R.I., students used to give Lannon a hard time about his New England accent. He was a fixture at the school crossing at Gulf Drive every morning and every afternoon, stopping traffic for the kids and parents who crossed the street and waving to an increasing group of people who got to know him.
In 2004, Lannon was selected as The Sun’s Person of the Year for his work
Lannon also began teaching a program called DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) to the fifthgraders, working to improve the curriculum every year until he was voted the state’s top DARE officer in 2005. He once concocted a mixture of alcohol with cigarette butts in it and put it in a blender. After mixing it up, he had the students smell it. Many walked away vowing to never have anything to do with either. He also taught self-respect in hopes that the children would not be pressured into doing things they shouldn’t in order to belong to an in crowd.
"He always told the students, ‘Take care of your mind. Take care of your body. Be the best you can be,’" said Jamie Walstad, a mom and PTO member. "He always put the kids first."
In 2004, Lannon was selected as The Sun’s Person of the Year, not only for his work as AME resource officer and as the DARE instructor but also for his dedication to the students and his seemingly unending love for them. It was not uncommon for Lannon to continue checking in on students long after they graduated from elementary school.
AME Principal Tom Levengood did not get to know Lannon because of his short time at the school.
"I only met him once, but I never knew a person who had such a positive influence on so many people," he said Friday. "I definitely missed out on knowing a wonderful person."
Kathy Hayes, AME principal until she took the same position at a new school late in the school year, said she remembered Lannon’s sense of humor, that "lightened the load" on the workday.
"He was a picture of positive thinking and connected with the staff members," Hayes said. "I can’t imagine him not being there."
Tim Kolbe was principal when Lannon was hired and he remembers him as a good guy.
"He was considered one of our staff," Kolbe said. "We invited him to our parties and gatherings and that was rare for a resource officer."
Kolbe said Lannon was well respected and always willing to help at the school.
"He was definitely a blessing," Walstad said. "He loved to help out, especially selecting the music for our I-movies and other productions at the school."
His sense of humor was a trademark. When it came to music, he admitted he liked Barry Manilow’s romantic hits from the 70s.
"He always said it took a real man to admit liking Barry Manilow," school counselor Cindi Harrison said.
Lannon was also well-known in the police community. Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale was one of those who knew him.
"It’s always tough when somebody in law enforcement passes away, but it’s tougher when it’s someone you know," he said.
School registrar Amy Slicker took a positive attitude.
"I’m glad that I knew him," she said. "He did a lot for everyone."
Lannon fought the cancer for nearly a year. After taking several weeks off for what he thought was a bad back, a subsequent examination took an ominous turn when doctors announced he had pancreatic cancer. Lannon was having financial difficulties because he had bought a second home before selling his old one. The slow real estate market did not help, and when the word went out around the Island, parents, police and friends organized fundraisers to help the family. There was a pasta dinner Oct. 19, organizers of the Bayfest gave a portion of their proceeds to Lannon and a massage fund raiser by Danielle’s Day Spa and car wash on Oct. 22 by Pete’s Teens, a group of former students, helped set the stage. The PTO also donated a portion of proceeds from Fall Fest and Spring Fling.
Pete is survived by his wife, Debra; daughter, Jessica; two sons, Peter Jr. (Christy), and Matthew, all of Bradenton; sisters Frances Mazzei, of West Warwick, R.I., and Mary Law, of Coventry, R.I.; and brothers, Donald, Michael and Edward, all of Warwick, R.I.