A 22-year veteran of the Leesburg police force who lost his battle with cancer is being remembered by fellow officers as a dedicated cop with a sense of humor.

Lt. O'Neal H. Stewart, 61, of Fauquier County, died July 24 at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

Stewart, the only black to serve on the department's command staff, joined the force in April 1977. He started as a patrol officer and worked his way up the ranks to serve as patrol commander for the field operations division, a job that put him in charge of working with the community on such special events as parades and open houses. Most recently, Stewart was assistant commander of the support services division.

"He was a great boss to work for," said Doug Taylor, a Loudoun County sheriff's deputy who formerly served on the Leesburg force. "He was very supportive. He didn't have to be in the limelight himself--he just wanted to support the efforts to do good in the community."

Acting Police Chief Michael McVeigh, who was in the same rookie class as Stewart, described his colleague as a practical joker and a motorcycle nut.

"His sense of humor was a big asset for the department," McVeigh said. "He was very easygoing."

Officers from Leesburg, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Virginia State Police joined in a funeral procession Wednesday. Outside Leesburg police headquarters, flags were lowered to half-staff, and a memorial was set up inside.

McVeigh said he told mourners who gathered at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Rectortown that many officers had close ties with Stewart and most "have an O'Neal story."

"I remember one time when we were working together, and I screwed up real bad," McVeigh said. "He was doubled over in laughter. He promised never to tell--and I'm not going to."

Before coming to Leesburg, Stewart served in the Army and then worked handling security at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, McVeigh said. Stewart was divorced and is survived by three children.