In parallel lines, their white-gloved hands gripping nothing but sorrow as they hung at their sides, the processional of the county’s law enforcement ranks stood at grim attention as the family of Deputy Quinnaland Rhodes funneled slowly into New Life Tabernacle by the Sea Saturday afternoon.
At the front, escorted by Undersheriff Joel Norred, Felicia “Vette” Rhodes sobbed passionately as she prepared to bid goodbye to her husband of a dozen years, who had died suddenly just two days after Christmas.
The walls of the church were lined with attendees as the pews filled with people from throughout the county, wanting to help soothe the shock and grief born when a beloved officer dies at age 44, leaving behind a wife and seven children.
With full honors accorded a veteran of service both in the Navy and the lawman’s fraternity, Rhodes went to the heavenly home promised him by his Christian faith accompanied by the rare beauty of full-throated song and speech.
“He could be counted on to do his job,” said Norred, speaking on behalf of Sheriff Skip Shiver, unable to attend as he shared the last precious hours of his own father’s ebbing life on earth.
“Quinnaland is one of us, the brotherhood of law enforcement officers. He met all his assignments, whether he liked them or not, with a smile,” said Norred. “Franklin County has lost a good citizen and a good man. We will forever miss him and we will always be there for his family. May you rest in peace, my brother.”
Following the viewing, in which Rhodes was seen in the green deputy’s uniform he wore with honor, the home-going service commenced with two officers, Sgt. Wayne Nash and Lt. Robert Shiver, flanking the flag-draped coffin in front of the sanctuary.
Presiding was Bishop Horace Solomon, with the invocation provided by Pastor Gary Reed, of the St. Paul AME Church.
The Old Testament reading of Isaiah 41: verses 10 and 13, was offered by Elder Thomas Webb, himself a lieutenant with the sheriff’s office and an active pallbearer.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
The New Testament reading from Matthew 11, v. 28, was spoken by Elder James Pugh, also a sheriff’s deputy.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The community choir, comprising the finest voices from throughout the many churches that dot Apalachicola’s Hill neighborhood, then offered the first of its selections, with a solo of “Go Tell Heaven” by gospel recording artist Maxine Ray Kellogg.
Following Norred’s remarks, Fonda Davis spoke on behalf of the Apalachicola Volunteer Fire Department, recalling how Rhodes had served the department for 14 years and had earned the status of a senior member.
“There will only be one Q,” said Davis, standing not far from the firefighter helmet and axe propped up against the casket.
Retired Sgt. Jim Watkins offered a lengthier, at time humorous, recollection of his days as Rhodes’ partner.
“He was my best friend,” he said. “He was one of the best partners anyone could ever ask for. We trusted each other.”
He told of his friend’s razor-sharp sense of humor. “He had a knack for saying things nobody else could,” said Watkins.
Watkins told of how the two were once out on an early-morning stakeout, when it became clear that bears could soon be finding their way to nearby garbage cans. Watkins asked his partner what he would do if a bear approached them.
“Just outrun you,” replied Rhodes, without hesitation.
Speaking to Rhodes’ reputation as an employee was Olivier Monod, owner of the realty company and St. George Island inn and grocery for which Rhodes had worked for a decade and which helped launch his own maintenance service.
Monod talked of his colleague’s sharp mind, “quality of heart,” and “incredible work ethic.
“For Quinnaland, there were no problems, there were only solutions,” said Monod. “If everybody had his work ethic, there would be no crises in the world.”
Monod closed by reminding Rhodes’ family how much he treasured them. “He was a family man and we used to spend quite a bit of time talking,” he said. “I know how important his wife and children were to him.”
Donna Duncan, choking back tears, read her remarks on behalf of the Apalachicola High School Class of 1988.
“Quinnaland always had a smile on his face,” she said. “He was one of the most beautiful, kind and loving flowers of all. We have lost you too soon.”
Her voice soft as fog on a chilly morning, soloist Angelita Stephens then sang Rhodes’ favorite song, “Open My Heart,” by Yolanda Adams.
In the audience participation of the service, Eric Bryant, the arson investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s office who worked alongside Rhodes in investigating the May 2011 blaze at the Love Center Church, stepped forward. Also addressing the gathering was an Apalachicola woman who told of Rhodes kindness to her and her husband.
“You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor or a more wonderful friend,” she said.
Tami Ray-Hutchinson read a list of resolutions and acknowledgments, including those from new Life church, St. Paul AME church, Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson, who declared Dec. 27, 2012 Quinnaland J. Rhodes Remembrance Day, and the county commission.
The service came to a resounding finish with a fiery eulogy from Solomon, who praised Rhodes’ service to God and community. “If he wasn’t on the job, he was on his way to the job. A very personable young man, very good natured,” he said. “His works speak for themselves. In the end, what we’ve done for the Lord is going to speak for us.”
Solomon quoted extensively from the book of Daniel, in which the mysterious words “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” are written on the wall, indicating that all of one’s deeds are weighed and counted in the eyes of heaven.
“Life goes by so fast we don’t know when the Lord is going to call us,” said the pastor. “Don’t wait ‘til the party’s over. We need to acknowledge God while we got the chance. Serve the Lord while you got a chance. Be good while you got a chance.”
With Sgt. Timothy Register, Sgt. Carlos Hill and Sgt. Anthony Croom joining Webb, Shiver and Nash as pallbearers, Rhodes’ casket was taken for burial at Magnolia Cemetery.
There, flags from the casket were presented to Rhodes’ widow and to his mother, Iris Hamilton. The ascots worn by the officers were given to Rhodes’ children.
The Leon County Rifle team and Bugle Corps fired off a 21-gun salute, and played Taps, with representatives of the Tallahassee Fire Department playing bagpipes. A fellowship repast for friends followed at the Armory in downtown Apalachicola.
The last poignant moment in Rhodes’ passing came when the sheriff’s office offered a final call through its dispatch on behalf of the brotherhood and sisterhood of first responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers.
Renee Brannan, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said that when officers start their shifts, they are asked for different codes, such as a 10-86, for the start of their tour of duty, and 10-87, for its end.
“What the tradition is you come across the radio and call for that officer who is deceased. You call, and they don’t answer, and you call again, and they don’t answer,” she said.
“This is the last call for Franklin 112,” the call sounded. “No response from Deputy Quinnaland Rhodes. Franklin 112 is out of service after 11 years and three months of service. Although you are gone, you will never be forgotten. Rest in peace our friend.”