John W. Rose died on Christmas Day, 2012.
John W. Rose died on Christmas Day, 2012. (Press-Telegram file photo)

LONG BEACH - Few people can say they lifted a burning car off a trapped victim - twice.

But then everyone who knew retired Long Beach Police Cpl. John Rose will tell you there are very few people like Rose.

Loved by family and friends, and an officer decorated many times for his bravery and more than 36 years of service on the force, Rose was a barrel-chested man with an equally big heart. He died on Christmas Day at the age of 72 with his wife, Adela Rose, at his side.

"He looked like a monster or a menace, but he was a big softie," his wife said. "He had so many stupid jokes, he could make anybody laugh.

His physical strength, and his love for his family, kept him going for the last eight years, despite numerous complications that followed a battle with cancer in 2005.

"He never lost his sense of humor, or his will to live," Adela said.

His legendary strength and will were put to the test many times in his career, but most notably in 1979, when Rose and James Settles were working in narcotics and came across a fiery accident near Spring Street and Los Coyotes Diagonal.

As they rushed up they saw a man who was pinned beneath a Volkswagen that had flipped over. Within seconds, gas from the car's ruptured fuel tank burst into flames that spread around the screaming victim.

Settles grabbed a blanket and began to beat back the flames as Rose, a competitive weight lifter, heaved the car off the victim's chest. The victim could not move, so while Rose held the car aloft, Settles pulled the victim away from the fire.

As Rose lowered the car he saw a second injured victim, who had been shrouded by the flames. With the fire continuing to burn around him, Rose lifted the car a second time as Settles pulled that victim to safety.

Though their clothes and hair were singed, neither officer suffered serious injury.

It earned Rose one of many honors bestowed on him throughout his career, including Officer of the Year and The Michael A. Sergi Memorial Award, which is an honor chosen for officers by their peers.

Rose was a strong advocate for his fellow officers and helped bring the Long Beach Police Officers Association into a new political age, said POA President Steve James, who called Rose a mentor.

It was Rose's vision that took the association from a group with very little sway to one that is highly regarded as a political power today, James said.

"If it wasn't for John Rose and Paul Chastain we wouldn't have a police department in Long Beach today," James said, referring to the move in the late 1980s and early 1990s to replace the local department with contract services from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Rose and Chastain were instrumental in persuading enough members of the City Council to keep the department going, James said.

Rose remains the only member on record elected to all four leadership positions: president, vice president, treasurer and secretary.

He displayed the same dedication to the Police Department and the city, where he was known as one of the Magnificent Seven, a group of seven officers who each served more than 35 years before retiring.

During his tenure with the department, the Poly High School alum worked patrol, the chief's office, the academy, training, detectives and special investigations' vice and narcotics details.

When he was promoted to the rank of corporal, he was assigned to a Drug Enforcement Agency task force assembled by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. With federal and state powers, Rose and others on his team tracked rock cocaine from Los Angeles across the country.

when he returned to his narcotics unit, Rose instituted a new enforcement program that saw drug dealers' assets seized, earning the LBPD more than $8 million.

After retirement he served as director, secretary and president of the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Association and as an adviser, secretary and director for the California Peace Officers Memorial Foundation.

Rose was appointed in 2000 as a commissioner for the State of California Narcotic Addict Evaluation Authority by then-Gov. Gray Davis and served as a commissioner for the Long Beach Citizens Police Complaint Commission. 

His wife said some thought Rose would finally take it easy when they moved to Indio, but that was not the case.

He became active in two homeowners associations and started a Police Officers Memorial Fund for the Indio Police Department with $300 of his own money. It now has more than $100,000 in trust for windows and orphans of officers.

Rose also launched a family legacy - his "dynasty," according to his wife - at the Long Beach Police Department that lives on today.

His brother Rich was a police officer, followed by Rose's daughters, Judy Davis and Valerie Romero, son-in-law Rudy Romero, and nephew Chris Rose. His other son-in-law, Steve Davis, works for the Anaheim Police Department.

Though Rose was preceded in death by his brother, he is survived by his wife and his children, two stepchildren, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held today, at 11:30 a.m. at Forest Lawn Cypress, 4471 Lincoln Ave. A celebration of his life will follow at the POA Park in Long Beach.

tracy.manzer@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2150, twitter.com/tmanzer