As several hundred law enforcement officers in blue, olive green and brown dress uniforms stood shoulder to shoulder atop a grassy knoll, an honor guard carried Montgomery County Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke Jr.'s casket yesterday into St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church in Wheaton.
Crooke, 54, county chief since 1979, died Tuesday after a blood clot lodged in a major artery between his heart and lungs. He had undergone surgery Feb. 13 for removal of a cancerous tumor in his colon. An autopsy showed that the disease had spread to other organs.
The Requiem Mass was conducted by more than a dozen priests assisted by five uniformed Montgomery officers. Msgr. R. Joseph Dooley, a D.C. police chaplain who met Crooke nearly 25 years ago when Crooke was a D.C. patrolman, described his death as "a county loss."
"He was a gifted leader -- laid back perhaps, but one who united this department. He was a natural," Dooley said. "He loved people and people loved him. When such a man dies, our community is impoverished."
Crooke, who left the number two spot on the D.C. force to become Montgomery's chief, was "a policeman's policeman who gave dignity to public service," said County Executive Sidney Kramer.
The crowd at the hour-long service consisted of nearly 2,000 mourners. At the start, a soloist sang "Morning Has Broken," and the service ended with "America the Beautiful."
Later, Kramer said that Crooke's death "leaves a terrible void. I've lost a friend and a very important adviser in government. He shall be missed."
Nancy Moses, a former police spokeswoman and a friend of Crooke's, described him as a compassionate man and said, "He was comfortable everywhere and with everybody."
As family and friends filed out of the church after the service, Helen Lark, a neighborhood resident, gripped the hand of her 6-year-old daughter. Lark said she had come to "pay my respects and explain to my little daughter that he was the chief of police and that this is very sad -- that the police lost a member of their family."
The service was attended by representatives from police forces in the District and Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Frederick, Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties, along with members of the Maryland State Police and the National-Capital Park Police.
The police units formed a procession of flashing lights as their cruisers traveled three miles along Connecticut Avenue to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Wheaton.
At the graveside, a trumpet played taps and a three-shot volley echoed over the stillness.
As he left the cemetery in his crusier, Daniel Maddox, a Montgomery County officer who patrols Wheaton, described Crooke as a leader who cared about his troops. "He took an interest in the department and he was always supportive of us. He was a good chief."