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McLean mourned: Houghton County sheriff died Monday night

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Former Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean addressed members of the county’s jail task force and other community members at the task force’s organizational meeting. He passed away Monday evening.

HOUGHTON — Friends and colleagues from around the state remembered Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean for his generosity, good humor and dedication to the community.

McLean died around 8 p.m. Monday at UP Health System — Marquette, two days after an accident at his home. After medical aid from neighbors and emergency personnel, he was airlifted to Marquette Saturday night, where he was placed on life support.

He was elected to his first four-year term in 1996, and was re-elected last year with more than 77% of the vote. At the time of his death, he was the longest-serving sheriff in the state.

“I join the hundreds of people who have expressed their condolences after learning of Sheriff McLean’s passing – a loss that is felt well beyond the county he proudly served for more than two decades at the department’s helm,” state Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement Tuesday. “My thoughts are with the sheriff’s loved ones and the entire Houghton County Sheriff’s Office during this difficult time.”

After graduating from Northern Michigan University Regional Police Academy in 1978, McLean joined the Houghton Police Department as a patrolman before transferring to the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office in 1982, according to the Michigan Sheriffs Association. He also graduated from the National Sheriffs’ Institute in 1998.

Details of his funeral services will be announced at a later date.

Born the same day as McLean, Houghton County Commissioner Roy Britz had known McLean all his life, first at school, then working alongside him at the Houghton Police Department and the Houghton County Sheriff’s Department. When McLean became sheriff, he asked Britz, who had left the department by that time, to serve as undersheriff.

Britz remembered McLean’s friendship and loyalty.

“The guy had a heart the size of his body,” he said. “You could ask him anything, to do anything for you, and he’d be the first one there to do it.”

The two had a good working relationship, Britz said. On the rare occasions they disagreed, they’d have a closed-door meeting. (Being the boss, McLean usually won.)

“My job was running the department, his job was the political side of it and being the community leader,” Britz said. “I think we functioned very well in those roles. I had his support, and he had my support.”

Britz recalled seeing a news article about McLean’s death with a photo of McLean smiling, which he said spoke volumes.

“That’s who he was, a guy with a smile on his face and always willing to be around and help,” he said.

County Administrator Ben Larson described McLean as a fantastic sheriff and even better man.

“The guy was not rude to anyone,” he said. “He did it right. He loved people. It doesn’t matter your creed, or your race. He interacted with young kids and old people and everyone in between. The guy just loved people. He was rock solid.”

McLean was a “sheriff for the people, 100%,” said Board Chair Al Koskela. He was also excellent at serving the county while staying within his budget, Koskela said.

“He was a very good administrator, he got along with all the people he worked with, and as well as the community, and he was always ready to lend a helping hand on anything,” Koskela said. “He was the sheriff, but he also sat on other boards and committees, and he did his job on all of them.”

McLean had been a leader of several efforts to build a new replacement for the county jail. As the county works on a potential new project on Sharon Avenue, Britz said if the county can get a new jail built, the time McLean spent reaching out to the public will be a key reason why.

“Hopefully that will be his legacy, that he worked hard to try to educate the community and try to get everybody to understand what is taking place without getting political about it,” he said.

Mclean was also a member of the Middle Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network, the National White Collar Crime Center, the Regional Safe & Drug Free Schools Committee, and served on the Good Will Farm Board of Directors from 2005 to 2008, the Michigan Sheriffs Association said. McLean also served on the Michigan Sheriffs Association board for several years, and was elected in 2009.

He was well-respected by every sheriff in the state, said Matthew Saxton, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association

“You always knew when Sheriff McLean was in the room, which is not uncommon for an elected official,” he said. “Even in a roomful of elected sheriffs, you always knew Sheriff McLean was there … I’ve had calls from Oakland County to Berrien County to Chippewa County. All corners of the state are really mourning the loss of Sheriff McLean.”

McLean was a “straight shooter,” said former County Board Chair Ed Jenich. He remembered accompanying McLean on his trip to Grand Rapids to be sworn in as president of the Michigan Sheriffs Association.

“We lost one of the best in his field,” he said. “The people of Houghton County always came first … he was a hands-on sort of guy, he knew the people on the streets, knew his constituents. He was just an all-around perfect guy as far as I was concerned.”

Undersheriff Kevin Coppo will take over on an interim basis. The probate court judge, prosecutor and county clerk will meet to decide the process for selecting a replacement on July 30, Larson said Wednesday.

“The sudden and tragic loss of this man who was both a leader and a friend is hard to process,” Coppo said in the department’s statement Monday night announcing his death. “Our hearts go out to his family during this truly difficult time.”

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