A longtime retired Laurel police officer died from complications of COVID-19, family members reported.
G.L. “Pappy” Keyes, 95, lost his battle with the virus Thursday at South Central Regional Medical Center, where his wife of 74 years, Carolyn, is battling the same illness.
“To live to the age of 95 is an amazing blessing, but to know the virus will take him from us has been heart wrenching!” his granddaughter Jennifer Holifield posted on Facebook shortly before he passed away. “He is one of the most precious people you could ever know.”
That was the sentiment of those he served with — and even those he arrested — said some who worked with him at the Laurel Police Department from 1967-87.
“The world lost a good man,” said Ed “Poochie” Parrish, who worked alongside Keyes. “He helped more people than he arrested.”
Keyes came to work for the LPD after the Masonite strike, joining his brother R.L., whose nickname was “Eyeball.” That’s who told Parrish that the new officer’s nickname was “Butterball.”
“Everyone called him Pappy later on, but I knew him as ‘Butterball,’” Parrish said.
Another former officer who served with Keyes remembered him as an officer who was always fair.
“He was as calm as could be … easy to get along with,” Joe Perette said. “I’ve never seen him upset.”
The Keyes brothers worked as motorcycle officers, and “Butterball” was also the ambulance driver, when that job was under the LPD, Parrish said.
“He did a good job wherever he was,” Parrish said. “He was a darn good man and a good officer who did his job. He didn’t try to hide behind the badge. He didn’t strut around.”
Keyes was selected as the LPD’s Officer of the Year in 1986, the year before he retired. His death came the day before National Peace Officers’ Day, when the city flags were flying at half-staff.
Keyes was Eddy Ingram’s first shift commander when he was a rookie at the LPD in 1980.
“He taught me how to be a good cop,” said Ingram, who was on the job for 26 years and now trains officers in the Sandersville Law Enforcement Academy. “He taught us that you do what you’ve got to do to do the job, but you treat everyone fairly and be honest.
“He helped bring up some of the best officers I’ve known. He trained the last of the real cops … They had to deal with people. There was no technology. It was just old-timey police work. He was the cream of the crop as far as leaders go.”
Ken Keyes, who is a cousin of the deceased, said he rode with him many nights on patrol.
“He treated everyone the same … he was just a good man,” he said. “I never heard him say a cuss word. For him, a cuss word was ‘frazzlin’ scissorbill!’”
The LPD’s Keyes brothers’ father Robert was one of Laurel’s first fire chiefs, said Ken Keyes, a retired firefighter. The fire station on Susie B. Ruffin Avenue is named after the elder Keyes.
Holifield wrote that her Pappaw “passed away peacefully,” but she asked the people keep the family in their prayers because “our sweet Nannan … is also at SCRMC fighting this awful virus.”
She and the other grandchildren described him as “one-of-a-kind” as a father and grandfather. They recalled him reading the Bible and telling them about Jesus.
“He always had a sweet smile on his face, and when you asked him how he was doing, he’d just respond, ‘You got two hours?’ and just snicker,” Holifield recalled. “He had a joke for everyone to hear.”
He carried around soft peppermints and shared with everyone, never meeting a stranger, she said. He also played the guitar as the family sang together. But the thing that really stood out, she said, was his love and attentiveness to their Nannan.
“She was the love of his life,” Holifield said. “She never knew how to pump her own gas because he always made sure to do it for her. It’s all the little things that make this dad and Pawpaw the great man he was.”