Joseph W. McLeary, who served with the city Police Department, Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency during a more than four-decade career, died Sunday of a massive stroke at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 73.
"Joe loved the state police, and he carried that into retirement," said state police spokesman Greg Shipley.
"It was obvious that being a state police officer was something that never left him. He even still wore the state police haircut," he said. "He had many, many friends throughout the department, and he had the respect of troopers across the state."
"Joe liked to think that he was helping people — people who were in distress," said Bill Toohey, former Baltimore County police spokesman, who is now director of communications for the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention. "Some cops grow bitter and angry, but Joe never did."
The son of a General Motors autoworker and a homemaker, Joseph William McLeary was born in Baltimore and raised in Dundalk.
After graduating in 1959 from Dundalk High School, Mr. McLeary enlisted in the Army and served with the 504th Military Police at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Discharged in 1962, he joined the Baltimore Police Department and rose from the foot patrol to serving as an undercover officer and in the motorcycle unit.
Mr. McLeary began his state police career in 1966 when he joined the aviation unit and was one of the first paramedics to serve in the division. He transferred to plainclothes, where he worked as an investigator from 1973 to 1975, when he was promoted to supervisor.
In 1979, he helped organize the internal affairs unit, and then was named assistant commander and later acting commander.
Promoted to detective sergeant in 1981, he supervised the criminal investigation section of the Maryland Port Administration at the Dundalk Marine Terminal. In 1984, he was assigned to headquarters, where he worked in the criminal investigation division, and in 1990 to the Glen Burnie barracks, where he oversaw its criminal investigation division.
He was commander of the licensing service section at his 1992 retirement.
During his years with the state police, Mr. McLeary was a regular teacher at its academy.
"I first became aware of Joe when I was attending the Maryland State Police Academy as a member of the Class of 1978," recalled Mr. Shipley.
"Here was this sharply dressed criminal investigator lecturing us on a sensitive subject. He delivered it with both facts and a sense of comedy. He had a great comedic wit," he said. "He was a character, and we were in awe of the guy. We never forgot him, and all these years later, we still talk about him and that class."
"He could relate to them in a very personal way, and that's why they remember him now," said Mr. Toohey.
During the 1970s, Mr. McLeary studied at Loyola University Maryland and the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex.
"After the state police, however, he started a whole new adventure working for FEMA," said Mr. Toohey. "Because he was retired, without any full-time commitments, and because he had experience in dealing with traumatic events, he became an emergency worker for FEMA. They called on him, at the drop of a hat, to respond to some disaster, often quite distant, and assist in some form or other."
For a decade, Mr. McLeary roamed the world on missions that took him from Hurricane Marilyn, which ravaged St. Croix in 1995, to the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, to the Red River flood in 1997 that inundated Grand Forks, Neb.
In 1999, Mr. McLeary spent more than a month at Fort Dix, N.J., in medical support assisting Albanian refugees from Kosovo. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he worked more than a month in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
But the World Trade Center attack in 2001 was one of the most traumatic events that Mr. McLeary faced.
"He was working at Bellevue Hospital, where he met people coming in looking for their loved ones," said Mr. Toohey. "He was just trying to help people get through their stress."
"What bothered him most was going through the streets and seeing the pictures and notes saying, 'Have you seen so and so? If so, please call this number.' It really affected him," said his wife of nearly 50 years, the former Margaret Anne "Meg" Frisino.
Hurricane Katrina was his last mission, and he retired in 2005.
At the time of his death, the longtime Lutherville resident was working as a bailiff for the District Court of Baltimore County in Towson.
Mr. McLeary and his wife were avid Johns Hopkins lacrosse fans and were season ticket holders. He also enjoyed raising bull terriers.
He was an active member of the 504th Military Police Battalion and enjoyed traveling by train to attend the annual reunions. He also liked to vacation in New England in the fall and at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada in the spring.
"Every December, we visited the Grand Illumination at Williamsburg" in Virginia, said Mrs. McLeary.
Mr. McLeary was a member of American Legion Post 183 in Parkville, where he was in charge of the Boys State program.
For more than 50 years, the couple were regulars at Squire's Restaurant on Holabird Avenue in Dundalk.
"We went every Friday at 7:30 p.m. either alone or with another couple, and we always sat at the same table, No. 243," said Mrs. McLeary.
Mr. McLeary was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues in Towson, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday.