Gary Helm, 1947-2021
Last updated 8/9/2021 at 2:01pm
Gary Larson Helm, 74, of Lake Wales passed away Thursday, July 29, 2021 at Select Special Hospital in Orlando.
He was born May 20, 1947 in Lake Wales, to the late Elmer and Lola Helm. Many people in Lake Wales remember him as a community hero, who as a young sergeant in 1972 helped save a grocery store full of people and a fellow officer by engaging five armed robbers in a gun battle. Gary shot and killed two robbers at the Publix on SR 60 and arched his back to narrowly avoid being shot himself. Friends said he kept the shirt with the bullet hole in it until it was destroyed in a house fire. Gary was credited with killing a robber who was shooting at fellow officer Lonnie Byrd, who flinched when a bullet whizzed past him leaving gun powder burns on his back and neck. Gary worked for the Lake Alfred Police Department before becoming a patrolman with the Lake Wales Police Department on January 25, 1969. He was promoted through the ranks as sergeant, lieutenant and captain before being named police chief on May 23, 1994 by then City Manager David Greene. Prior to his formal appointment as chief, he served three stints as acting or interim chief. He retired on Nov. 1, 1998. While moving up in the department he served in various roles, including as a juvenile officer, crime scene technician, training officer, internal affairs investigator and firearms instructor.
Officers who worked with Gary said he was someone who could be counted on. A core group still gets together once a month for breakfast and to swap stories. He came until his health deteriorated. Gary was recognized as Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 1972, 1980 and 1990 by three different community groups. He served as an instructor at the South Florida Junior College Police Academy and as an advisor for the Polk Community College Police Academy.
In his retirement, Gary took up wildlife photography, shooting hundreds of photos of birds, which he posted to his Facebook page. He also enjoyed painting in oils and acrylics, cooking, and fishing. He was a great back porch storyteller.
Gary was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley Helm; and grandson, Matthew Starnes. He is survived by his daughter, Laurie Helm of Lake Wales; son, Jeff Helm and wife Marilyn of Lake Wales; brother, Wayne Helm of Lake Wales; and grandchildren, Haley, Madison, and Tanner.
A celebration of life will be held at the Lakefront Park Clubhouse at Walk-In-water Lake Estates (2227 Lakefront Drive, Lake Wales, Florida 33898) from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., Saturday, August 14, 2021. In lieu of flowers, please feel free to bring a dish. The family asks for casual attire.
Marion Nelson Funeral Home in Lake Wales is handling arrangements.