LONG BEACH - In the one-man play "A Bronx Tale," one of the central themes is whether it is better for a leader to be respected or feared.
In the real life story of recently retired Deputy Police Chief William S. Blair, many said both qualities were instilled in the officers who worked with Blair over the past 32 years.
At a party held to honor his career Friday night, friends and colleagues described Blair as intense, dedicated, driven, intimidating and even scary.
But although he was one of the toughest bosses many in the room said they ever had, he was also one of the warmest people his friends and colleagues ever came to know.
And he never pushed anyone as hard as he pushed himself, many agreed.
"We'll miss him," Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said earlier this week. "Not only for what he brought to the table professionally, but personally. He is a man of true integrity with a strong moral compass, which I think is grounded in the fact that he is so dedicated to his family."
McDonnell said Blair's colleagues were motivated to work hard - because Blair did. It was a quality learned at an early age, said his mom, Chris Blair.
The son of a naval officer wounded in the Battle of Okinawa, Blair grew up in Los Alamitos, where he started working at age 12 as a busboy at a local restaurant and sweeping up hair at a barbershop.
"We never told him to do it, he just did," his mom said. "He was never afraid of hard work."
At that same age, Blair made it known he wanted to be a police officer and he soon joined the Police Explorer Program at the Los Alamitos Police Department, she said.
Even though he was just a boy, Blair's potential was never in doubt, added Mickey Bennett, a retired sergeant who oversaw the Explorer program. Bennett, who now works for the National Institute of Justice and SRA International, said Blair remains one of his most esteemed protégés- turned-colleague.
"He always demonstrated good street sense. He showed nothing but the greatest enthusiasm from the beginning. So it has been great for me to see him come up through the system," Bennett said. "And as I watched him progress in the Explorers and saw him grow into a young man, I did think that one day he was going to become a chief."
Bennett was one of about a dozen people who spoke at Blair's retirement party, including representatives from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, the Long Beach City Attorney's and City Prosecutor's offices and, of course, members of the LBPD.
Most agreed Blair was integral in the Long Beach Police Department's collaboration with local, state and federal agencies. He has served in a number of capacities, including being one of the most valuable members of the Marshals Service's Regional Task Force, which set a record in California this year with the arrest of 280 violent and dangerous offenders in four days, said U.S. Marshal David Singer.
Blair also handled some of the LBPD's toughest challenges, including being tasked with creating the Gangs and Violent Crimes Division 10 years ago, said Blair's longtime friend and colleague, Deputy Chief Robert Luna.
"You want to be respected when you leave, I think part of that is being a man of integrity (and) character someone who has given it his all," Luna said this week.
The majority of Blair's career was devoted to investigations, though he spent many years in patrol, most of it on graveyard shift, and SWAT.
His official police career began in 1980, when he was hired at the age of 18 by the Signal Hill Police Department to serve as a jail officer and dispatcher. He was hired by Long Beach two years later.
Among the moments in history he shared with his fellow officers were the 1992 riots. After he attended the FBI Academy in 2000, he was called on to help with the national response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Blair also helped in the aftermath of the terrorist bombings in London in 2005.
Asked what his favorite moment was over the past three decades, Blair said, "All of it," then quickly added investigations was his true calling.
"When most people think of police work they think of officers on the street (in patrol)," Blair said. "I've always been attracted to investigations. Most people don't realize the amount of work and dedication there is after that initial response ... Investigations gets the bad guys off the streets."
Only one thing mattered more than any of that, however, and it was and is his family, Blair said.
Blair's typically tough external demeanor softens when he speaks about his wife, retired Detective Jana Blair; his daughters, Jennifer and Emily; and his mom.
He took time off work as a young officer in the 1980s to care for his mother when she was diagnosed with cancer the first time, and after his father died.
He said he shielded his family as much as he could from negative aspects of his work, including the five times he was shot at during his career, Jana Blair said.
"I'm his biggest fan, it's what I tell him every morning before he goes to work," his wife said. "We have the perfect family, and we are so lucky to have him. I adore and love that man so much."