Big Bad John

The measure of a man is the breath of those left behind and the strength of their journey.

In the case of my friend John Odlin the more than 350 people who showed up for his Friday funerals speaks volumes of the former and manner in which he dealt with the extended pain he endured one illustration of the latter.

And between us I think there were about seven commonalities 

Oh the stories.

They actually started Thursday night at a Polson Chamber of Commerce function where a former EMS worker in Missoula and I swapped spit about the Big Man.

For the better part of 30 years on the news side of radio and newspaper, I traveled pretty much daily in circles similar to Odlin’s and after seeing the picture, with his eye glasses low on his nose and him peering over the top, it gave me pause as to how many times I had seen the look and the lucky fact that most of the time it wasn’t directed at me.

I came to Missoula in the early 80’s to work in the bowling business where I first met John and his wife of more than 50 years, Ruth.

It immediately brings to mind the image of John lofting the ball out toward the arrows with a thud. Let’s just say even by that time the knees didn’t allow big-time bend.

Been there – done that. And the weight. Well between us I’m sure we lost more than 500 pounds over the years.

We both were softball players although I did most of my fast-pitch play in Spokane and I never took the helm of a Beachliner or school bus but of course we both were dear friends of Bob Beach and the family.

The Griz connection of course and Justice of the Peace is something I always considered several years because of John’s insistence.

The aforementioned firefighter and I laughed how John liked to push that HP cruiser to such a point that I only did a single ride-along.

But one could never meet a fairer, more understanding, yet still tough man given circumstances.

You were not going to con John Odlin who especially was strict about DUIs and Partner-Family Member Assault.

“Kind of broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip but everyone knew ya didn’t give no lip to Big John … Big Bad John,’” goes the lyrics.

John first struck me just like the song and that old coal miner. Strong as an ox, faster on his feet than you might expect, gruff especially if us news types stepped out of line, and first to help where help was needed.

Unbeknownst he confided deeply in me behind that closed office door just off the courtroom and consequently whenever I could, I did likewise. My access was endless.

Fittingly the sounds of the Beach Boys took his casket up the aisle after he was memorialized by former Chief and Sheriff Doug Chase and retired MHP Capt Mike Frellick.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long? And wouldn’t it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong.”

I must have touched base with 100 mostly retired officers which made me realize how out of touch I have become. Their kind words and support of this program are greatly appreciated.

The younguns’ have quite a tradition to uphold.

Yet the Odlin blue line is intact in the hands of sons Chris and Jerry, both Missoula City Officers.


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