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By Samantha Allen
Telegram & Gazette Staff

Former Worcester County Sheriff John M. “Mike” Flynn died of natural causes Friday morning.

Mr. Flynn, 89, of Charlton, served as the county sheriff for 18 years. He left office in 2005 after losing the 2004 Democratic primary to then state Sen. Guy W. Glodis.

Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis said Mr. Flynn was the kindest elected official he knew.

“There are so many individuals he helped over the years. Anyone who was going through a difficult time or down on their luck always knew they could count on Sheriff Flynn,” Mr. Evangelidis said. “He will surely be remembered for his kind heart and generous spirit.”

Mr. Flynn was a World War II U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Pacific with the 75th Infantry Division. He joined the Fitchburg Police Department in 1953, where he served for a decade. He then took a job as a deputy master at the Worcester County jail in 1962, a career path that would bring him to the sheriff’s seat in 1986. He was re-elected twice.

Later in life, Mr. Flynn was involved in numerous charities, the sheriff’s office said, including the Mercy Centre and Dismas House. He also launched the sheriff’s annual senior picnic.

Former Worcester Mayor Jordan Levy worked with Mr. Flynn for many years. He said Mr. Flynn, even in his later years worried about what role government could play in offering assistance to the mentally ill and people with disabilities.

“He was not only a great sheriff but a great human being,” Mr. Levy said. “We shared conversations about … what government could do in a better way for society. He was kind of like the great American icon. He was really a character. … He was this big, big man, … (but) he had a softness as a really gentle person.”

Former Worcester County Treasurer Michael J. Donoghue recalled how Mr. Flynn oversaw a jail that grew from a few hundred inmates to more than 1,000.

“He had to deal with issues of overcrowding, a mandated reduction,” he said. “It was a pressure job, and he handled it unbelievably. He always kept in mind that he wanted to keep the public safe and correction officers safe.”

Mr. Glodis referred to his predecessor as “an institutional icon” who embodied “the best of the Greatest Generation.”

“Following in his footsteps, it really became clear to me how much he gave to other people. He was a prolific giver,” Mr. Glodis said. “He helped so many people from so many different issues, not just from rehabilitation, but with autism and those people that were disabled.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern said he and his wife were saddened to hear of Mr. Flynn’s death.

“He was a larger than life personality – with an even bigger heart,” the Democratic congressman wrote. “His devotion to public service and the common good is an example to us all. We loved him a lot and our prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”

The sheriff campaigns in Leominster in 2004