By Reg Chapman

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — For 37 years, Art Blakey served as police chief of the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

On Friday, hundreds gathered to celebrate his life.

“It was a day at the fair just like he liked it,” said his daughter, Brooke Blakey. “It’s kind of like we were sitting on the bench in front of the [police department] and people stopping by to say hello.”

Blakey’s family says the chief wanted his farewell celebration to be just like another day at the state fair.

But the celebration of his life was more of a tribute to a man who approached life and his job with fairness and compassion.

Hundreds from all four corners of Minnesota packed the West End Market on the fairgrounds Friday to remember a man who always did what was right.

“Art is a guy, a very rare guy, who brought out the very best of our better angels,” said Jerry Hammer, the general manager of the Minnesota State Fair.

Blakey was also a trailblazer in law enforcement.

He was the first black sheriff’s deputy in Ramsey County and the first black police chief in Minnesota.

But more importantly, he was a friend to everyone he met.

“I was a young, frustrated foul-mouth, very foul-mouth community activist who had a dream of becoming a police officer, and one man gave me that shot and his name was Art,” said Booker Hodges, who is now the undersheriff of Ramsey County.

Many who now wear the uniform credit Blakey with giving them their start in law enforcement.

They say he was a true cop, large in stature, but with the heart of a pastor.

Dear friends say that because of Blakey’s kindness they will never think of him in the past tense.

“Because the world is a far better place with Art in it, so we need to keep him here,” Hammer said. “All that he embodied, all that he lived for.”

Blakey gave all to his family, his profession, his beloved Rondo community in St. Paul and everyone he called friend.

“As long as you are in the community, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason, that’s how you would honor my father,” Brooke Blakey said.

Art Blakey was 83 years old.

He leaves behind a wife, three children and five grandchildren.

Reg Chapman