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Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sheriff McLean

A week after an accident that eventually took his life, the community gathered Saturday to pay respects to Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean. The service was organized by the Sheriffs & Municipal Memorial Assistance Response Team (SMMART), part of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

The service started around 2:20 PM, with bagpipers leading in hundreds of law enforcement personnel from agencies across the State of Michigan. McLean was a member of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hancock. Reverend Glenn Schwanke presided. He touched on McLean’s sense of humor, a common theme that has been expressed in the days since his death.

The Brian McLean that I am going to remember today is a man who would often walk into the chapel at peace, and there was always the hint of a smile, so you always figured out where this would end up at some time or other. The Brian McLean that I am going to remember today is a man who never stopped lightening our days with his Facebook posts.

It wasn’t just online. McLean had an effect on any room he was in.

And that would happen on a Sunday too. After greeting me at the back of the chapel, he’d make a bee line over to the Fellowship Hall because he had to have his snacks and a cup of coffee. And if the Salo boys were in the house that same Sunday, the next you’d know, you would hear laughter out of that corner, and it would rumble its way throughout the building.

No one was safe from McLean’s pranks, even the reverend’s own family.

My daughter, who was in the third grade at the time, was also convinced that one of her teachers was in the witness protection program. That teacher had a glass eye. Now, at that my daughter Tori balked a little bit, you’re in the third grade you don’t quite buy everything you hear anymore. At that point, Slim so matter-of-factly quoted the serial number on the back of that glass eye, and if Tori would just ask the teacher to pop it out, in school, that she could confirm all this.

In remarks that lasted around one hour, Schwanke used a combination of reminiscences, responsorial prayers, and hymns to celebrate the traditional Christian notion that our faults are forgiven at death. It was not billed as a funeral, but as a victory celebration. The theme of salvation played out, including a rendition of Amazing Grace.

Visitation began at 10:00 AM Saturday in the lobby of the Rozsa Center on Michigan Tech’s campus. Flowers and various acknowledgements of McLean’s long tenure as sheriff helped to tell the story of a man who was a giant in his community, known by all.

McLean’s body had already been cremated, his remains in an urn placed on a table. For hours, people walked by giving their final respects, and offering words of support for the McLean family. Outside, the Houghton and Hancock Fire Departments provided ladder trucks to suspend a giant, 50-foot American flag over the entrance to the parking lot.

MSA Executive Director Matt Saxton says he was made aware of the situation early in the morning on Sunday, July 18th.

One of the 83 sheriffs of our state passes away due to a tragic accident, it was very sad news to get last Sunday morning when I heard of the accident, and conversely, on Monday night, when I heard that he had passed away.

Saxton says McLean was a great man who will be missed. He explains the role of SMMART in preparing for police funerals, especially those that are unexpected.

Typically we do line of duty death funerals. We’ll send five or six folks from our team up to that agency and just help them plan with that family and that agency. We’re directors, kind of. We try and take all the work off of their plate, so they can mourn.

After the service had concluded, McLean’s remains were given one final sendoff. Cloudy skies and light rain marked the hearse’s procession to the Rozsa Saturday morning, including a trip past the Houghton County Courthouse and department headquarters. The long, gray Lincoln pulled out in the afternoon under bright, blue skies. The victory celebration saw a remarkably similar effect on those in attendance, as moods lightened over the course of events and a hero was remembered fittingly.

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