It’s bad enough to lose a close friend to cancer. Losing two in one year is…well, really painful. To lose three in a period of a couple years is just beyond words. But that is the reality my family and I are facing this holiday season. The third was lost to us on Thanksgiving Day…and I am indeed thankful to have known him. I’d like to offer a little something here to prompt us to appreciate what we have and the value of those around us who enhance our world, even if we don’t personally know them.

The latest hero to pass from our lives was a man named J.B. Hume. If that name sounds like a character out of a rowdy western, it’s probably because J.B. always said he was named after James B. Hume (January 23, 1827–May 18, 1904), one of the American West’s premier lawmen. And, true to the name, J.B. had a successful career in law enforcement. He retired as a lieutenant from the Huntington Beach Police Department ten years ago.

I met J.B. in 1976. I was 18 years old and was hired as a cadet/intern with the Huntington Beach Police Department. He was just a year older than me, but was considered a senior cadet at the time, with recognized leadership skills even at that young age. We were both assigned to work in the department’s dispatch center and front desk. Of course, I knew nothing and had to learn everything from scratch. But J.B. had already mastered the job’s responsibilities and established relationships with the officers and all those working in communications.

The dispatch center was, and always has been, a frenetic working environment. The dispatchers and their supervisors were too busy answering the phones and facilitating traffic on the radio to give me much attention, except when I screwed up. So they plopped me down next to J.B. and told me, “Watch him, pay attention to what he tells you and if you have any questions, don’t bother us…ask him.”

I’m sure I looked at J.B. with wide eyes that betrayed my lack of confidence. He just looked back at me with a broad smile and chuckled, “It’s not so hard, but it can be a bitch at first. That phone is ringing…answer it and pretend you know what you’re doing.” From then on, I did my best to copy him and managed to survive another 14 months on the job.

We went our separate ways when I was hired by the Carlsbad Police Department the following year. J.B. became an officer with H.B.P.D. shortly afterward. We didn’t meet up again until I transferred back to Huntington Beach six years later. By that time, we were both pretty well established officers with decent reputations. But J.B. was still a mentor and helped me get reacquainted with the exclusive culture that made H.B.P.D. a unique department to work for, and one of the finest law enforcement organizations in California, if not the nation.

J.B.’s resume is long and full of honorable achievements, too much so to relate here with any hope of doing it justice. Let’s just say he worked a wide variety of assignments, was promoted twice, and was always held in high esteem by those he worked with and for, as well as by those who worked for him. But, what set him apart from others was the extra effort he gave to ancillary responsibilities he took on, aside from his routine duties. For over 30 years, he coordinated the Explorer’s Search and Rescue Post and tutored dozens of kids who went on to successful careers of their own in public service. During that time, he also got recruited to play Santa Claus at Christmas for programs the department sponsored at the county’s children’s home and for underprivileged families in the community. He was just that kind of guy who could pull it off with compassion and charisma.

Just before I was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, J.B. invited me to attend a monthly lunch group of officers who shared their Christian faith. It was fortuitous, because they became an extended support group for me as I battled my way through radiation treatments, chemotherapies, and surgeries. J.B. was among a small group who maintained contact with me during those trying months. He is also one of those in that group that fell victims to their own cancers and are no longer with us. You can believe me when I say I understand “survivor’s guilt.”

Through my health crises, as well as others, J.B. could always lighten the load with a great sense of humor. We’d always give each other a playful hard time that added immeasurably to our camaraderie, encouraged humility, and endeared us to one another. It even spilled out when J.B. emceed a department retirement dinner the year I wrapped up my career. We nudged and taunted each other while he summarized my time on the job in front of the other guests, and joked in ways that probably no one else understood.

In his final days, I tried vainly to inject that humor into our last conversations. We both knew where his ordeal was headed from the time of his diagnosis, just seven months before his passing. We also knew through faith where he’d be headed afterward. We could share fears we wouldn’t dare trouble our families with and still encourage some sort of optimism in one another that we couldn’t maintain on our own. Along with the other friends I’ve recently lost, such as Blair Sims and Bill Meers, he will be greatly missed.

In the last few days, there have been many things posted on social media and shared amongst those who knew J.B. and were touched by him in so many meaningful ways. Most refer to him as a “role model” in some way, shape, or form. The praise has been so genuine and heartfelt that I realize more than ever how honored I am to have called him my friend, buddy, and pal. It’s what motivated me to share it with you and ask you to keep him, and his family, in your prayers this holiday season.

It seems God must be calling a team of authentic heroes together for some special purpose…my life has been significantly enriched by knowing some of them as good friends.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” -Matthew 5:8