When our editors searched our archives for photos of Al Hogle, Executive Editor Lisa Walsh recalled the portrait of Chief Hogle published in October 2007, when he announced his candidacy for Sarasota County sheriff.
“That’s the one,” she said. “It looks like he’s in heaven.”
Al Hogle is in heaven, all right. No doubt about it.
All who knew him are devastated by his tragic death. Throughout the day Tuesday, when our reporters spoke to Chief Hogle’s longtime colleagues, they choked up and couldn’t talk. “I’ll call you back,” said former Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis.
Chief Hogle was everyone’s favorite. But he was an all-time favorite among Longboat Observer staffers. Part of it stemmed from this important and unwavering attribute: He was always straight and honest with us. Indeed, he was a model for how a public official should interact with the media.
But more than that, much more than that, Chief Hogle was an all-time favorite because of who he was — a good, good, good man.
Kurt Schultheis, city editor of the Sarasota Observer, probably had more direct experience with Hogle than anyone on our staff. Schultheis covered the police beat on Longboat Key for five years, all the while Hogle was chief. Here’s what Schultheis wrote Monday evening after learning of Hogle’s motorcycle accident and death:
“What a shock. Hogle was one of my favorites. Probably my favorite.
“In my opinion, everybody knew Hogle while not everyone knew Bruce St. Denis or (Interim Town Manager) Dave Bullock. In a sense, at least to me, Chief Hogle was the real face of Longboat Key.
“He would park his car at the south end of the Key and take a bike ride almost daily the entire length of the Key and back before heading back to Sarasota, waving to people along the way. I would see him talking to people on the side of Gulf of Mexico Drive all the time. He would also walk into businesses all the time; come pick up a paper and talk to Patti Colby at the Observer’s front desk. He was out on the street as much as his officers.
“What I loved about Hogle is he never, not once, tried to cover anything up in his department. When one of his officers got caught looking at porn in a squad car computer, one of the first calls he made was to us. He always told me he would rather it come from him firsthand when one of his guys screwed up.
“Another time, he called me to tell me he was hiring Capt. Tokajer from Bradenton and explained Tokajer had done some things when he was a younger police officer that he had put behind him. When I asked Hogle why he was calling me, he told me the same thing: ‘I know he’s the right man for the job, but I wanted you to hear from me that I knew about his past.’ We did a story, and Hogle called it ‘more than fair.’
“If something was wrong in Hogle’s department, he was straightforward and honest about it from the get-go. I could never get a ‘shock story’ from his department because he would beat me to it with the phone call to alert us what had happened.
“He was also the only one who consistently called us when something was breaking on the scene — from a bad Bayflite car accident to the dead body found in a Country Club Shores canal a few years back. Hogle had me programmed in his cell phone, and he used it.”
Schultheis remembered the Toys for Tots drive every year at the Longboat Key police station. “Every year, just days into it, large presents like bicycles would appear in the bin with cards ‘From Santa.’ It was the worst kept secret in town. The Hogles spent hundreds of dollars shopping for the drive each year.
“Al Hogle was the only department head on the island who answered his own phone with no middle person. If he was in his office (I could always reach him at 8 a.m.), he always picked up his own direct line and said, ‘This is Al Hogle. Hi Kurt, what can I do for you today?’ If I needed stats or information, it came from his email.He was his own secretary. He told me once there was no need for taxpayers to spend the money for him to have a secretary.
“When he decided to suspend his bid for sheriff shortly after announcing the bid, he said it was for family reasons. Off the record, he confirmed he had family illnesses he had to attend to. ‘Family comes first,’ he said. He followed up with, ‘Leaving Longboat Key would be tough though, too.’
“Hogle rotated taking town employees to lunch at restaurants all over the Key. He knew everyone’s names, their kids’ names, their wives’ names. I ran into him downtown at Sarasota City Hall a couple of months ago when he was going to the credit union across the street. The first words out of his mouth were, ‘How are Brooke and Liam doing?’ It shocked me. He was just a great guy.
“Every employee in town, except one, loved Al Hogle. Their praise only grew when he did what Bruce St. Denis never did for 15 years: Get rid of the employee cancer infesting Town Hall.
“Sadly, going on that annual trip with his buddies was something he looked forward to every year. He would talk about getting the bike ready and preparing for the trip weeks before it was going to happen.”
Observer Executive Editor Lisa Walsh dealt directly with Chief Hogle every year for 10 years to organize the annual Fourth of July Freedom Fest parade on Longboat Key.
“The very first year, when I called the town about having a parade, I was told it couldn’t be done,” Walsh recalled. “Bruce St. Denis said I should check with Al Hogle.
“I remember Al always saying, in a calm way, ‘We may have a problem with this, but here’s a solution.’ He always found a solution.
“And then he was there every year, every year on his day off, leading the parade and making sure those kids were safe,” Walsh said.
It was always a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting or the little town of Mayberry. Chief Hogle would be among the first ones at the parade staging area between SunTrust Bank and Bank of America on Bay Isles Road, dressed in his crisp police uniform, with crowds of kids around him decked in their red, white and blue.
“I remember the year it rained,” Walsh said. “He was there beforehand with his weather monitor, worried about the kids not getting their parade.
“He was so easy to deal with.”
Al Hogle was indeed our Andy of Mayberry, in his own, lovable, competent way. Like Sheriff Andy Griffith, Hogle was much, much smarter and wiser than he led on. He knew how everything worked — the Town Hall politics and bureaucracy — and he knew how to maneuver in and out of this system in such a way that he made it look effortless. If Chief Hogle were ever stressed out, he never, ever let on in public. Roger Drouin, another former Longboat Observer police reporter, said of Hogle: “That was the trait that really set him apart — consistently calm.”
Chief Hogle lived by the book. In 2004, with Hurricane Charley taking aim on Longboat Key, Hogle and his officers issued the evacuation order on Longboat Key. I decided to stay, while the rest of the family evacuated. We inadvertently forgot about our dog, Mudge. I called Chief Hogle to ask if I could drive Mudge over the bridge and return to the Key to cover the storm. “I can’t let you do that,” the chief said. I pleaded. “Sorry,” he said. “Once you cross the bridge, that’s it. No exceptions.” By the book. (Mudge made it, thanks to another motorist.)
Chief Hogle took some harsh criticism from a few town commissioners for his handling of the suspension of the former town planning director, Monica Simpson. But from all we heard, once again, he followed the book and showed courage, aplomb and patience throughout.
That decision, in all likelihood, cost him the opportunity to become Longboat Key’s town manager. But that probably was a good thing. Chief Hogle was living his calling, maintaing a steady hand over public safety on Longboat Key, helping others in need. Drouin remembered how Hogle responded in the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2006, when a group of Cuban refugees landed on the shores of north Longboat Key. “He and Deputy Chief Martin Sharkey made sure that the dehydrated and hungry refugees were treated kindly and given proper care,” Drouin wrote us.
And he did everything without fanfare. As far as we can remember, Chief Hogle never sought credit or accolades for anything. He liked to give credit to others, especially to his officers. And in the company of citizens, he lived by that old Mother’s Rule: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Hogle always had something nice to say to you or about someone you knew.
Al Hogle was a good, good, good man.