It’s a Family Tradition: The Public Service Life of the Bearys
Sometimes, there is a thin line between fiction and reality. For the Beary family, it’s a thin blue line that separates their real lives from “Blue Bloods,” a television series that features a family of police officers and other law-and-order types. It’s a show that resonates with Kevin Beary ’01 and Richard Beary ’04, the eldest sons of a family whose roots in public safety go back six generations – and continue to grow.
In 1963, an Orlando newspaper article described the “serious crime and serious problems” that led city officials to beef up the Maitland police department. Renovations at the time included a new jail. The upgrades were due to a collaboration between city officials and Raymond Beary, the city’s new chief of police who had been on the job for barely a year.
Beary – at the time, father to Kevin and Richard – said, “I have opinions and I express them. I don’t make friends all the time.”
In that same article, the reporter interviewed Kevin and Richard about their career aspirations. The boys had their own opinions and were also happy to express them. Kevin, who was 6 at the time, wanted to be a police officer. Richard was 4 years old, and he wanted to be a “baseball player like Mickey Mantle,” or “maybe” a police officer.
After 34 years in law enforcement, Ray Beary retired. He was quoted in a 1989 article describing the toll the job had taken on him. By then, he had become the public safety director for Winter Park, overseeing both the fire department and police department. “I have been shot at, shot back, killed one, been taken hostage, pulled a man from a burning building and I have suffered numerous injuries,” he wrote in his retirement letter to the city manager. “I’m out of gas,” Beary concluded.
The elder Beary may have been out of gas, but his children were just getting started. Kevin, along with his brothers Richard and Raymond Jr. (Randy), and his sister, Noel, are all either currently working or have worked in public safety, or, as Richard says, “the family business.” The Beary children have a combined history of more than 100 years serving and protecting the Central Florida community; they are the fifth generation of Bearys sworn to uphold the law. The Beary legacy appears to be intact: of Raymond and June Beary’s grandchildren, six are currently serving on the right side of the “thin blue line.”
Kevin recalled the hostage situation to which his father had referred in his retirement letter. Beary had actually negotiated with the gunmen who were holding hostages to release them in exchange for himself. As the situation unfolded over a tense six hours, Kevin was enroute to competing in a high school baseball game in Volusia County; the rest of the family was waiting at police headquarters for news.
Kevin was worried about his father, but he also knew that there would be trouble if he did not give it his all during the game. As Kevin stepped up to the plate, there was a runner on second base, and the count was one and two. Suddenly a familiar voice rang out from the loudspeaker: “Beary!” yelled his father. “You better get a hit or you’re not eating tonight!” He had negotiated the hostage crisis, and the first thing on his mind was to let his son know he was OK. The Bearys found out later that their father had told the gunmen that their options for leaving would be in “handcuffs or a body bag.” Oh, and Kevin got a hit.
At a time when police officers are under more scrutiny than ever before, some may wonder why almost an entire family would choose that career. “They must be nuts,” said Jeff Williamson, Ph.D., public information officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Williamson knows the Beary family; Kevin hired him in 2006, and he met Noel shortly thereafter. “I asked myself, ‘Is everyone in this family a cop?’”
The answer, Williamson found, was “Pretty much.”
“Over the years, dealing with hundreds of deputies,” Williamson continued, “I began to realize this is not abnormal.”
The Beary family might be well known because of Richard’s and Kevin’s high-profile jobs, but Williamson said that there are definite patterns at work. “As a sociologist and a researcher, it seems that individuals in law enforcement pass down – and often, across – a love for community protection and service.”
In their parents, Raymond and June, the Beary children had good role models to follow. In 1957, following a stint in the Marines, Ray Beary joined the Erie County Sheriff’s Office in Buffalo, NY. He later went to a smaller town nearby as its police chief. There, June served as the office’s dispatcher, and in the days before wireless communication, this meant that someone in need of a police officer would phone the Beary house, and June would dispatch codes on a Motorola radio to officers on duty.
The Bearys moved to Central Florida in 1962 when Ray was offered a job as the Maitland chief of police. As the Beary family grew, with the additions of Randy and Noel, all the children became accustomed to the police way of life.
Occasionally, Ray would take the children on ride-alongs as he patrolled the growing community. They saw his passion for his profession, and they saw the respect that he earned from the citizens and from the members of his department. Law enforcement, naturally, was one of the first career paths the children would consider.
The Other Side of Law Enforcement
When graduates of UCF’s criminal justice program choose law enforcement as a career path, they know it can be fraught with danger. But, conversations with members of the Beary family also reveal a different side to the career, one that reveals the compassion of the community. Here are just a few of their recollections:
- Patrolling a neighborhood, receiving a friendly wave from a resident mowing his lawn
- While on patrol on Thanksgiving morning, being invited to stop by a resident’s home for dinner. It was delicious.
- Game Day at UCF – Tailgating. Richard Beary always has a roll of paper towels in his golf cart to clean up after fans offer the Chief the “best chicken wings at UCF” and other goodies. “If you want to eat good, go with the Chief” is the mantra at UCF Police Department.
- Thwarting a mass killing in 2013: a quick response by UCF PD found explosive devices, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and an assault rifle, part of a foiled plan by a former UCF student who committed suicide minutes before officers arrived on scene.
- UCF police carry an antidote to combat heroin overdoses. Naloxone has been used to reverse more than 10,000 overdoses each year. It hasn’t happened at UCF yet, but when it does, officers will be ready.
- Solving cold cases: When Richard was Lake Mary’s Chief of Police, he worked for six years with other agencies to solve the disappearance and presumed murder of a 14-year-old Lake Mary girl who vanished without a trace. Her convicted killer was sentenced to life in prison in 1995.
- Having a stranger pick up your tab at a restaurant as a thank-you for your service to the community.
- Hearing from the parent of someone who attempted suicide that the person recovered completely and is now working as a missionary.
- Making friends with the Afghan police assigned to protect you. After working in Afghanistan, Kevin Beary sponsored four of his friends and their families for American citizenship.
The ride-alongs also gave the children a glimpse into the other side of law enforcement. On one particular occasion in the late ‘70s, recalled Noel, she and her brothers were riding with their dad when they pulled up alongside a car full of teenage boys. At the time, Kevin and Richard were already sworn officers; Noel was in high school.
Seconds later, one of the boys pulled down his pants and “mooned” the patrol car. Beary pulled the car over, and loudly expressed his indignation and outrage not only because the boys had flagrantly violated the law, but also because they committed the offense in the presence of his precious daughter.
“You never know who is in the vehicle behind you,” Noel said, laughing. The boys did not get arrested, but definitely got a “stern lecture.”
Noel learned to “be a quiet observer” whenever she rode with her father, who could be called into action at any moment. “He sat on a very high pedestal,” Noel said. “As do my brothers.”
“I was Daddy’s Little Girl,” Noel acknowledged. “At his funeral, “I said that I might never be chief or sheriff, but that is one title my brothers would never have.”
Although there was, perhaps, an assumption that Noel would follow in her brothers’ footsteps and become a law enforcement officer, there was a time when she seriously considered becoming a firefighter.
Like Richard, Noel began training for a career when she was in high school. Unlike her brother, however, she completed fire and emergency-medical technician training, and went on to become a reserve firefighter for Winter Springs.
Her father was “ecstatic” when Noel finally told him of her decision to join the family business. She was ready for the scrutiny that came with being Beary’s daughter, including one of her first screenings for the job. The interviewer, one of her father’s colleagues, kept asking her pointed questions about any drug use in her past.
“I don’t, never have and don’t plan to,” said Noel, 18 at the time. “How many different ways are you going to ask me?” (That’s the famous “Beary Directness,” Noel said.)
After the interview, the screener checked in with Noel’s father: “I can tell you this: your daughter has never done drugs.”
Noel went on to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, where she served under four sheriffs, including her brother. Throughout her career, she always remembered her father’s words, “Treat people the way you would want to be treated.”
Sometimes, Noel would receive affirmation of her father’s advice in unlikely places: When she was working the fugitive unit, she picked up one “gentleman” to escort him to jail for processing, and a bystander, whom she had recognized from a previous encounter said, “Hey, be nice to her! She’s a good person.”
Until her retirement, Noel took the somewhat different path of working as a special projects coordinator, where one of her job duties included the somber task of assisting with the funeral arrangements of officers killed in the line of duty. Currently, Noel is the state chaplain for the Florida Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Kevin and Richard have held various leadership positions in law enforcement throughout the past four decades. Richard is the Chief of Police for the UCF Police Department. He previously served as the Chief of Police for Lake Mary after starting his career with the Altamonte Springs Police Department.
In a story that almost sounds like an urban legend, Richard went to the police academy at Seminole State College before he graduated from high school. Because he wasn’t old enough to buy the bullets needed for the course, his parents bought them for him.
Kevin served four terms as Sheriff of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. After his last term ended in 2009, he retired from public service but continues to serve as a volunteer for OCSO, an organization he joined in 1977. He is also the director of business development for Point Blank Enterprises, the “worldwide leader in the development, manufacturing and distribution of high performance, protective solutions for the U.S. Military and Department of Defense,” according to the company website.
In his role, Kevin stays plugged in to events throughout the world. With a professional interest in counter-terror efforts, he has worked with police in Afghanistan in operations planning, logistics and policy development. During a recent phone call, he admitted to being a little distracted because he was just getting information from his contacts in Afghanistan. There, a deadly blast in Kabul killed at least 90 people and badly damaged the German embassy.
At a recent breakfast, Kevin took a phone call from his contacts at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. There was a workplace shooting in progress, Kevin said. News reports later revealed that a disgruntled former worker at the Winter Park business had shot and killed five employees, and then turned the gun on himself.
Kevin and his wife have four children, the youngest of whom is pursuing a degree in communications. The other three are either currently employed in law enforcement, or used to work in the field. When their daughter, Elizabeth, was 3 years old, she told her father that when he “got tired of being sheriff,” that she would be sheriff.
Richard has three children, a girl and twin boys. His daughter, Jillian, started out working in a law firm, but called her father one day to tell him that she had signed up for the law enforcement academy. Richard’s son had a promising career in retail management, until he went on a ride-along with his sister. “That was that,” Richard said. Gregory graduated from UCF in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and an undergraduate certificate in security management. He works for the Orlando Police Department, and his sister works for OCSO. Greg’s twin, Mitchell, is studying to become an emergency-medical technician/firefighter in Missouri.
“I once asked Sheriff Beary if he could explain why there were so many law enforcement leaders in his family,” Williamson said, “And he told me, simply, that community service and protection is a part of the family.”
There are bad things, of course. Unspeakable things. Frequent reminders of the fragility of life, and how a poor choice can destroy families. There is a toll that a career in law enforcement exacts on those who serve. Take a wooden post and pound nails into it. You might be able to pull out the nails and fill in the holes, but the marks will always remain.
Richard will never forget the night when a UCF employee’s family was wiped out by a drunk driver. Later, at campus events to raise awareness about drunk driving, the employee shared the terrible story of how she lost her husband, son, and two step-sons by a drunk driver who ran a red light. It’s hard to forget stories like that, Richard said, but it inspires him to a “higher standard of care” for the UCF community.
Early in his career, Raymond Beary lost a colleague. When Noel traveled to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., she found her father’s friend’s name on the memorial of the more than 20,000 officers killed in the line of duty. She made a rubbing of his name, and gave it to her father, who broke down in tears.
“I never saw him cry before that,” Noel said. “To see that was overwhelming.” It was a reminder, Noel added, that “What I do is important.”
Written by Camille Dolan ’98