John Luc ready with helping hand or laugh

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By Nancy Kennedy

FLORAL CITY — If you ever needed anything, even (or especially) if you needed a laugh, John Luc was your man.

He loved helping people — and he prided himself on always being ready at a moment’s notice when someone needed a hand.

“In his obituary guest book, his former (Coast Guard) chief wrote that John was the only person who ever worked for him that he didn’t have to tell what to do,” said Lynda Luc, his wife of 41 years. “That was John. He knew what needed to be done and he did it. That’s the one thing he was really proud of.”

John Theodore Luc Jr. died Jan. 3 at his Floral City home. He was 65.

Born in Tampa, Luc joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1965 right out of high school. His first assignment: Boston, serving on an ice breaker that traveled to the arctic. For three years, this Florida boy saw only snow and ice.

His 22-year Coast Guard career included serving five years as part of former President Richard Nixon’s security detail in Miami, serving in the prestigious honor guard in Yorktown, Va., as well as working as a construction tender in St. Petersburg and finally as senior chief boatswain’s mate in Yankeetown.

No job was too big or too small for him.

He retired from the Coast Guard in 1987 and four days later joined the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, serving as CCSO’s first marine officer until retiring in 2008.

“He used to ride a Vespa to Yankeetown every day,” Mrs. Luc said. “John would do anything to save money.”

That was another thing about Luc — he knew how to make money and make it stretch. And he paid cash for everything.

“This is how ingenious he was,” Mrs. Luc said. “When he first went into the Coast Guard, he found out there were a lot of guys on the ship that couldn’t sew; they couldn’t repair their uniforms or put their patches on. So John bought a mini Singer sewing machine and he did enough sewing and repairs and taking extra watches that when he left Boston he had enough money to buy a brand new Volkswagen.”

The couple met in South Florida, where Luc and his wife’s sister were neighbors.

“It was love at first sight,” Mrs. Luc said. “But he definitely wasn’t a Romeo. He was not a lady killer — he wore those military-issue black-framed glasses they call ‘birth control glasses’ — but we hit it off right away.”

Ever the jokester, Luc chose May 1 as their wedding date so he could shout, “May Day! May Day!”

“He should’ve been a comedian,” Mrs. Luc said. “You could be having the worst day and he could make you laugh.”

You could be having the worst day on the water, and he could save your life, too. 

In 1993, two fishermen were out in the gulf, stranded in shallow water and Luc walked two boats a mile and a half to the Coast Guard boat in deeper water.

One of the men sent a letter to then-Sheriff Charles Dean commending Luc’s actions. 

The man wrote, “I was amazed at the strong and silent strength and stamina he possessed. ... As a disabled American veteran, I would consider it an honor to call John Luc a friend and ally.”

Luc’s son, Eric Luc, said it was nothing for his dad to get a call at 

2 a.m. about an overdue boater and race across the county to the rescue.

“Whenever there was flooding of the Withlacoochee River, my dad was out there patrolling, making sure people were safe,” Eric Luc said. “People used to call him the ‘mayor of Arrowhead,’ and joked that if Arrowhead ever had an election, he’d win by a landslide.”

CCSO deputy Sgt. Don Lestinsky, who worked with Luc for 10 years, said Luc “knew everything there was to know about boats, and he taught all of us a lot. John was a persistent seaman. 

“Many years ago when the Withlacoochee River flooded, John was out on the river from dawn till dusk looking for people who needed help. He just wouldn’t quit,” Lestinsky added. “Whenever you needed to find John Luc, he was on the water. We will miss him.”

In 1999, Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy recognized Luc for his work above and beyond the call of duty during that devastating Arrowhead flooding the year before. 

“John Luc is actually the sheriff of Arrowhead,” Dawsy said at the recognition event. “During the floods, John was their savior. I didn’t even see him for months.’’

Eric Luc said his dad was also recognized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission for smoothing over the bitter disputes between crabbers and shrimpers.

“He was proud of that, plus his work with drug interdiction, going out on patrols and catching drug smugglers,” he said.

John Luc was a big guy — bigger than life. He loved all-you-can-eat wings at Sonny’s, catfish at Stumpknockers and everything at the Golden Corral. He loved Pepsi Max and his beloved dog Sassy, motorcycles and guns and being out on the water. 

He was kind and gentle and tough as nails. As a marine deputy, he preferred giving warnings rather than tickets, but he wasn’t afraid to arrest bad guys.

Most of all, he loved serving people. 

“It was hard for him to retire,” Eric Luc said. “He was dedicated to helping people.”

“He always put me first — for 41 years,” Mrs. Luc said. “He was a great guy. You couldn’t ask for a better one.” 

Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2927.