Retired Santa Rosa police captain Jim Kuskie, who grew fascinated by law enforcement as a pre-Vietnam military policeman and who served in two cities under prominent Sonoma County lawman Sal Rosano, died Tuesday morning at age 70.
Kuskie was taking putting practice in preparation for a customary twice-weekly game with friends at the Bennett Valley Golf Course when he felt the onset of cardiac arrest. He died a short while later at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
His wife Roberta, who first met him when he pulled her over for a traffic violation in South San Francisco 40 years ago, was able to get to the emergency room for a good-bye.
"Though he didn't open his eyes, I knew that he knew I was there," she said.
Jim Kuskie was born in San Francisco and grew up in South San Francisco. As a young man he enlisted in the army and served as an MP in Germany.
Shortly after his discharge he became a deputy sheriff in San Mateo County. From there he transferred to the South San Francisco Police Department, where the new patrolman met Sgt. Sal Rosano.
Rosano rose to chief and in 1974 left South San Francisco to command the Santa Rosa Police Department. The departure of a captain in 1983 led Rosano to hire Kuskie, who at time was a lieutenant with South San Francisco.
"He was a no-nonsense kind of guy," said Rosano, who retired as Santa Rosa's police chief in 1996 and continues to work as law enforcement liaison to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"He liked the troops and I think they liked him," Rosano said.
Friend, golf buddy and former Santa Rosa Police colleague Bill Habkirk said officers appreciated that Kuskie was a straight-shooter.
"Things were rather black-and-white with him," Habkirk said. "You knew where you stood with him."
Kuskie retired in 1995. Since then he traveled with his wife of 36 years, spent time with his son and grandson and regularly played golf, a game he enjoyed since high school.
Habkirk, a member of the foursome, said Kuskie arrived early as usual Tuesday to practice putting and chipping. Kuskie, whose cardiac issues included the implanting of a stent years ago, was walking back toward the clubhouse when Habkirk approached him and saw he looked pale.
Habkirk accompanied his friend to a golf cart and Kuskie sat down, then pulled a nitroglycerine pill from a pocket and swallowed it. He told Habkirk, "This is the first time I've ever taken one of these."
Habkirk called for someone to dial 911. An ambulance arrived. Before Kuskie was placed in it he went into cardiac arrest.
His wife said paramedics revived him but his heart went into arrest two other times. She was grateful to arrive at the hospital in time to tell him she loves him.
"He treated me so well," she said. "He really was an Archie Bunker-type person. He tried to be crusty outside but inside he was a like a marshmallow.
"He was a good man."
In addition to his wife, Kuskie is survived by son Matthew Kuskie of St. Paul, Minn., half-sisters Gail Tyler of Mariposa and Janice Cruz of Humble, Texas, and one grandson.
Funeral arrangements will be under the direction of Daniels Chapel of the Roses.