Sgt. Clinton J. Holtz (U.S. Capitol Police )

Known to friends and colleagues as a “gentle giant” and to his mother as “Stretch,” the nearly 7-foot-tall Clinton J. Holtz struck a commanding presence as he walked his beat as a U.S. Capitol Police officer, protecting the halls of Congress.

The 44-year-old sergeant is being remembered for his kindness and ability to tell stories that had people laughing to the point of tears. He collapsed and died last week while on duty in the Capitol. His mother, Donna Grace Holtz, said he suffered an aneurism. A memorial is planned for Feb. 5 at Riva Trace Baptist Church in Anne Arundel County.

An avid boater and a former professional basketball player, Holtz played in leagues throughout Europe and Israel, putting his 6-foot-11 frame to use as a center.

He lived in Severna Park, where he grew up and attended high school. He was selected to play for the Baltimore Stars in the Capital Classic, which showcased the best all-star talents in the area in an exhibition at the Capital Centre.

Holtz went to George Washington University from 1988 to 1990 and then transferred to Niagara University in New York for four years, majoring in business and communications.

Black bunting is draped over an office door at the U.S.Capitol Police building. (U.S. Capitol Police /U.S. Capitol Police)

He tried out for several professional basketball teams, including the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics, but was thwarted by the league’s labor stoppage, his mother said.

He went overseas, where he spent 10 years playing for teams in Portugal, Germany and Finland in addition to Israel.

He joined the Capitol Police when he returned, following the lead of his now-late father, Walter, who served with the Baltimore police force.

“Sergeant Holtz was an extraordinary model of what it means to be truly dedicated to law enforcement,” Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine said in a statement. He described Holtz as a “true gentleman” who was admired “for his kindness and work ethic.”

Holtz most recently worked in the Capitol Police’s House Division, which patrols buildings on the south side of the Capitol Complex.

One of his past assignments included a protective detail for John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) starting in 2006, when the legislator was House majority leader. “Through the years, his dry wit and humorous personality was loved and appreciatead by all, especially by my wife and daughters,” Boehner said in a statement.

“He was a constant professional, but never afraid to make light of a funny situation when appropriate.”

Capitol Police said Holtz collapsed while on duty Friday. His death was not immediately made public, and it has not yet been determined whether it will be considered a death in the line of duty.

Black bunting has been draped over the entrance to the headquarters building, named after the department’s three officers who died on the job — two killed in a shootout in 1998.

Holtz’s 72-year-old mother said her son lived with her until August, when he started moving into a house he had built next door. He is survived by his mother and two sisters.

Holtz “had a knack for telling a good story,” she said, a trait he picked up from listening to his father’s tales.

“He never really got angry,” she added.

“He never raised his voice. He was tall but he didn’t make a big deal of it. He was a very modest person.”

Although the notice on the funeral home’s Web site is sparse — mentioning only his death and details for the memorial — more than 30 people have posted tributes. One couple wrote, “His height had nothing to do with how tall he really stood among us.”

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