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McLean mourned

Region remembers Houghton County sheriff fondly

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

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,” 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’s 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 Office. 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 County 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, 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.

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