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John I. "Mac" McAndrew Sr., city patrolman

Baltimore Police Officer John McAndrew at the ceremony honoring him in 2011 when he retired after 50 years on the force. He was the longest serving officer.
Baltimore Police Officer John McAndrew at the ceremony honoring him in 2011 when he retired after 50 years on the force. He was the longest serving officer. (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore Sun)

John I. "Mac" McAndrew Sr., a retired city police officer whose career in the Western District spanned 50 years, died of heart failure Wednesday at Lorien Nursing Center in Columbia. He was 75.

"I got to Western in 1985, and Mac had already been there 25 years, and then I retired before him," said Tom Cassella, who retired in 2007 with the rank of major.

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"We talk about community policing; he was the embodiment of that," said Mr. Cassella. "Mac was a very large guy and he never had to chase or fight anybody because he knew everybody in the district. All you had to do was give him a name and he'd get back to you in a day or so with everything you needed to know about the suspect."

"He was the kind of guy everyone wanted to get to know and be with," said Donald Helms, who retired in 2012 and is the chaplain for Lodge 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police.

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"Mac was an old-time police officer who always got his man. He knew the neighborhood and if he learned of trouble, he'd start asking questions and would find out who did it," said Mr. Helms. "He kept the area where he worked safe so people could come out and sit on their steps. Everyone loved him. What a great guy."

"He was a big guy, and his heart was as big as he was," said Claude Merritt, who worked in the Western District from 1969 to 1981 and retired from the department with the rank of sergeant. "He was a policeman's policeman."

The son of Wilfred McAndrew, a prison guard and barber, and Viola McAndrew, a homemaker, John Irvin McAndrew Sr. was born in Spangler, Pa., and raised in nearby St. Boniface.

Mr. McAndrew was a 1957 graduate of Hastings Elder High School in Hastings, Pa., where he was an outstanding football player.

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He served in the Army as a military policeman in Germany from 1957 to 1960. When he retired in 2011, he told The Baltimore Sun he had "wanted to be a police officer my whole life."

When Mr. McAndrew began his career June 1, 1961, with the Baltimore Police Department, officers worked foot posts and used call boxes to communicate with the district station.

"His pay was $3,900 a year," said his wife of 50 years, the former Rebecca "Becky" Sibert, who taught English in city public schools until retiring.

On Aug. 24, 1961, he began his five-decade career in the Western District, which historically has been one of the city's most dangerous.

"Nobody wants to go to Western," Mr. Cassella said with a laugh.

"I loved it, and so did Mac. He just loved everything about it. He brought integrity, honesty and had a great sense of commitment to the job," he said. "No one ever said a bad word about Mac, not even the people he locked up, who often came back to tell them he had actually helped them."

"The role of this man in Baltimore has changed people's lives," then-Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III told the crowd who had gathered at police headquarters to honor Mr. McAndrew when he retired.

"When you spoke to him, he was always very straightforward, and there was never a hidden agenda with Mac. He always told you the truth," said Mr. Helms. "People looked up to him."

When his wife suggested he move up in the department, Mr. McAndrew declined to do so.

"He loved being a patrolman and having contact with people in the neighborhood. He never wanted to move up," said Mrs. McAndrew. "He was a mentor and the kind of person people could go to for help. Being a police officer was his entire life."

"If you ever had a question, John never treated you as a dumb rookie; he'd explain things to you, and he advised us to always enforce the spirit of the law and not necessarily the letter of the law," recalled Mr. Merritt. "And every man was a gentleman, and very woman was a lady until they proved otherwise."

In addition to working his beat, Mr. McAndrew had additional duties in the district.

"He took care of all of our property issues. If we were getting low on something or out of it, he ordered it. If something was broken, he'd fix it," said Mr. Helms. "If you said, 'Hey, Mac, I need a new magazine,' he'd get it for you. You never had to ask him twice. He was that kind of person."

"He loved his job and joyfully went to work every day," said his wife, who added that he rarely missed work.

One time, Mr. McAndrew went to work even though he was so sick that he later had to be taken to the hospital, where he spent two weeks recovering.

During his tenure, he served under 13 police commissioners.

When Mr. McAndrew retired, his badge was retired, joining those of two other city police officers who have been similarly honored.

It is an honor given only to those who "serve for so long, with such distinction," Commissioner Bealefeld announced at Mr. McAndrew's retirement ceremony.

Mr. McAndrew enjoyed collecting police memorabilia and model police cars as well as exchanging Baltimore Police Department patches with other police officers across the country.

He was a member of Lodge 3 of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore Retired Police Benevolent Association, and the Maryland Police Emerald Society.

For years, the longtime Eldersburg resident worked with youths and coached football, baseball and basketball at the Severn Athletic Club, where he had also served as president. He was an avid Baltimore Colts, Ravens and Orioles fan.

Mr. McAndrew was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Community Church and Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Randallstown.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph's, 915 Liberty Road, Eldersburg.

In addition to his wife, Mr. McAndrew is survived by a son, John I. McAndrew Jr., a lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department who lives in Pasadena; a daughter, Clare Mastramico of Elkridge; and three grandsons.

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