OAKLAND -- Odell Sylvester was not the first black man to join the Oakland Police Department. But he was the first black man to attain the rank of sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy chief.
Along the way he gained a reputation for his firmness, fairness and compassion for the community, particularly young people.
"He was an outstanding man; highly thought of in the department," said retired Oakland Police Chief George Hart. "He was a very strong, sharing individual, knowledgeable and current in police policies, and he never lost touch with the community; never lost touch with the people he served with."
The Texas native died at his Oakland home Jan. 25. He was 89.
Sylvester served as a military police officer during World War II and the Korean War. He received his bachelor's from UC Berkeley in 1948 and earned a master's from USC in 1974.
"He was very intelligent," said retired Oakland Police Officer Arthur Cravanas, who partnered with Sylvester in the early years. "He always had good ideas about how best to develop our cases."
Being involved with the community and youth activities was a big part of Sylvester's life, says Cravanas. That included his long association with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakland.
"He was loved by many," said Calvester Stanley, president and chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakland.
"He was trusted in the community," Hart said. "And he was trusted in the department. He was an excellent role model. He walked in the shoes of the officers. (He knew) what they confronted; he was somebody who has been there, done that. I don't think you can ask for more than that."
After 28 years with the Oakland Police Department, Sylvester retired in 1977. He then became the first black police chief in Berkeley, serving in that position until 1980 when he retired for health reasons.
"I am going to miss him dearly," said his son Jon Sylvester. "He took me fishing, camping, taught me to swim; those are the things I remember most fondly."
Sylvester is survived by his son Jon Sylvester, daughter-in-law Barbara Sylvester and grandsons Ikenna Forte and Garrison Scott Sylvester. His wife Dorothy and daughter Jennifer preceded him in death.
In accordance with his wishes, Sylvester was cremated and his ashes scattered following a small private ceremony. His family asks people wishing to acknowledge Sylvester to make donations in his name to the Oakland Boys and Girls Clubs or their own favorite charities.