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OCCIE: SO NICE EVEN THE CROOKS LIKED HIM

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WILLIAM OSCAR "Occie" Evans wasn't a rich man. He wasn't particularly famous, either, and he didn't hold a prominent position in the world, although he was an athlete of some report.

And yet, curiously, his circle of friends included governors, church presidents and leaders, presidential candidates, famous football coaches, millionaires, renowned athletes and leading businessmen, as well as people from humbler backgrounds. It didn't matter who they were, he treated them all the same: like neighbors.He could count among his friends Gordon B. Hinckley, Cal Rampton, George Romney, Marvin J. Ashton, Bob Rice, LaVell Edwards, Ron McBride, Gene Fullmer . . . the list goes on. Everyone seemed to know him. He'd go to a ballgame and inevitably people drifted to his seat or visa versa to say hello. They all knew him simply as Occie (AH-kee).

Professional baseball player, policeman, umpire, referee, coach, fan extraordinaire, father, husband, Occie was the rarest of men nowadays - a man without guile, a man who just wanted to get along, make friends and help.

It wasn't surprising that when Occie passed away last week at the age of 89, he did so peacefully, in his sleep.

After 89 years, nobody could think of one bad thing to say about the guy. Which is fairly amazing for a guy who spent four decades as a referee and umpire and three decades as a cop. Occie was just so darn, plain nice that even the crooks liked him.

In honor of Occie, came this declaration: "I, Michael O. Leavitt, governor of the state of Utah, do hereby commend the life of William Occie Evans, which was filled with promoting and playing baseball and serving and protecting the people of the Beehive state."

In the end, it was a wonder that death could find Occie sitting still long enough to get him. The man invented energy. At LDS High School, he lettered in football, basketball, baseball, track, swimming AND was a cheerleader, not to mention student body president.

He was a superb athlete, all-state in three sports. He played professional baseball, beginning in 1928 with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. From there he went to Ogden, Bakersville, Oakland, Omaha and several towns in Utah and Idaho. During the celebration of baseball's centennial in 1947, Occie was picked as one of the 10 best players ever produced by Utah in the game's first century.

He became a police officer in 1943, but he continued to play baseball at night and to involve himself in sports in any way he could manage. He was a college and prep football and basketball official. He played a big role in bringing Little League in Utah. He coached American Legion teams. He worked in the University of Utah equipment room.

He was an avid fan and friend of the Utes. At Ute practices, it was the team, the coaches - and Occie. The week before playing BYU a few years ago, Coach Ron McBride closed football practice to everyone - but Occie. Occie was always so upbeat that even after a loss he would point out to McBride the good things the Utes had done during the game.

He served as a Salt Lake County deputy sheriff for 31 years, retiring as captain in 1974. They gave him a badge, and he bought his gun and uniform. He was in the traffic division and rode a motorcycle. They had no radios in those days, so he carried a pocketful of dimes and called dispatch every 15 minutes from a pay phone. In winter, he stuffed newspapers inside his thin jacket to help break the cold and wind.

It was the perfect job for Occie because it allowed him to meet people and to find those in need. One Christmas Eve, he discovered a mother and son who had nothing for Christmas. Through inquiries he learned that the mother needed clothes and the boy liked baseball. The stores were closed, but he managed to find clothes for the woman through the Elks Club. He agonized over what to give the boy. Finally, he had the answer. He gave him an old baseball that had been autographed by a Major League baseball team in the 1920s. It was one of his prized possessions and probably worth a small fortune, but he parted with it, much to the boy's delight.

That was Occie. Friends remember that when someone needed something, he was always first . . . first to the hospital, first to your home, first to call. His simple kindness inspired people in ways he might not have understood at first. He swore in at least a dozen 11-year-old boys as crossing guards who grew up to become policemen because they were inspired by Occie. They wanted to be like him. Occie's own son, Carl, joined the sheriff's department for 35 years, and Carl's son, Jeff, for 10.

Occie's kindness probably saved his life once. One day a car carrying three men ran a red light. Occie pulled the car over. He approached the men with his usual smile and friendliness and, after pointing out their error, let them go with a warning. A few days later police in Idaho stopped the same car and a shootout ensued, with casualties. The men were escaped felons. They told Idaho police that a cop had pulled them over in Utah, and that they had actually had a gun pointed at the officer from behind the door as he approached the car. But the cop was so nice, they said, they just couldn't shoot him.

Even the crooks liked him.

Near the end, when Occie was in the hospital, he was still affecting people that way. The floor nurses, who rotate patients, all wanted to take care of Occie, charmed by his humor and kindness. It was like that his whole life.

When they buried Occie today, they buried a man rich in friends.