Jimmie Watford, a long-time city of Kissimmee employee and former Kissimmee Police Department chief, passed away Sept. 8 at the age of 84.
At his funeral Tuesday, friends, former colleagues and members of the community turned out at Poinciana Christian Church to pay respects to a man many remember as a kind, strong leader.
“He was always helping people,” said Watford’s son, Mike. “So many of my friends and people I grew up with came to me after the funeral and told me how my dad had helped them through rough times, pointed them down the right track. That was just the kind of person he was.”
Watford started his career with the city as a police officer in 1958 after serving overseas in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War conflict.
He worked his way up through the ranks at KPD to become a sergeant, then a detective, and finally the chief of police, a position he held from 1975 to 1983.
Watford was an active member of the community, where he started and oversaw a Junior Police Club for youth in Kissimmee.
Mike said his father was always active and friendly, the kind of guy who knew everyone in the steadily growing but still mostly rural town.
“His favorite part of the job was always helping people,” Mike said. “Even after he retired, he was always involved with stuff going on.”
Mike, who was in high school when his father became chief, said he and his two brothers grew up hearing stories about Jimmie’s colorful calls.
From picking up a young man dropped off in the middle of a grassy median on Broadway by drunken friends after a night of partying or befriending a friendly stray dog during his graveyard patrols shifts as a cop, Mike says he’ll never forget his father’s interesting stories.
“There was a dog he used to look after when he was a police officer, and it eventually starts recognizing my dad’s cruiser, and would chase after it,” Mike said. “So, my dad got to the point where he would open his car door, the dog would hop in and the two would ride along the streets of Kissimmee, keeping each other company.
“When the night was over, my dad would open the door and let him out again until the next night.”
Babe Grissom, a longtime friend who proceeded over Watford’s funeral, said that the stray was the Kissimmee Police Department’s first honorary K9 member.
After serving as police chief, Watford became an assistant to the city manager and traveled to Tallahassee on many occasions to lobby for Kissimmee.
He ultimately retired in 1985 after 27 years with the city.
Watford’s love for animals, particularly dogs, is something that continued long into retirement.
At a home Watford and his wife kept near the North Carolina-Tennessee border, Mike said it wasn’t unusual for abandoned dogs to make their way to the family’s mountain home, where Watford always made sure the canines were fed and looked after.
“I never met an animal that didn’t love my dad,” Mike said.
Even in Watford’s later years, as old age took its toll, and Jimmie moved in with Mike and his family, the former police chief still doted on the household pets.
Mike attributes Jimmie’s caring nature to his father’s hard upbringing in the poor, isolated counties of Northwest Florida. Undergoing struggle and strife in his formative years made his father more aware of helping those in need, Mike said.
Growing up, Jimmie worked alongside his father and brother in a logging business.
A big job cutting down timber in a part of Osceola County now known as Poinciana is what brought Watford to the area as a young man, where he met his wife of 65 years, Lou.
The two came to build a life together in Kissimmee, where Jimmie left behind a legacy of strength, leadership and an unforgettable quiet kindness.
“He was a great, loving father,” Mike said. “He was a great man.”
A Celebration of Life memorial service for Jimmie was held Tuesday at Poinciana Christian Church, with the Minister Mike Black officiating.
The Kissimmee Police Department Honor Guard and Osceola County Veterans Council accorded honors.