Rock Barrieau, a former Gardner deputy police chief who served as interim chief in Townsend for a short time last year, died unexpectedly Friday.
Those who worked with him said he was called a committed public servant who "personified leadership" while maintaining a sense of humor.
Barrieau spent most of his career with the Gardner Police Department, where he served as deputy chief for about 13 years before retiring in 2013. He was Townsend's interim police chief for about four months in 2016, and in that brief time, he made a strong impression on Lt. Mark Giancotti.
"He was all about character," Giancotti said. "He was definitely a no-nonsense type of chief, but he was kind and nurturing. He had a rough outer appearance, but he was good to me."
Barrieau, 59, died Friday of a stroke, former co-workers said. It was not immediately clear who survived him or when funeral services would be held. It was also not immediately clear when Barrieau started with the Gardner Police Department, but over the course of his career, he worked his way up from patrolman to deputy chief.
Neil Erickson, Gardner's police chief, said he and Barrieau complemented one another.
"I would characterize our relationship as 'The Odd Couple,'" Erickson said. "He was the clean, squared-away straight guy, and I was the -- what would that be -- the Oscar?"
One of Barrieau's greatest achievements in Gardner was his work to improve traffic safety.
Since Barrieau's efforts, Mayor Mark Hawke said, there has not been a fatal crash in downtown Gardner. Barrieau had previously told The Sun that his efforts alongside other city departments helped reduce the average number of accidents downtown from 900 to about 500.
"Rock was truly unique," Hawke said. "He was a very serious man and took his job very seriously."
Barrieau retired from Gardner in 2013. In December 2015, he became the interim police chief in Townsend during a time of substantial turnover in the department. Longtime Chief Erving Marshall had retired in September 2015, and he was followed by Interim Chief Robert DeMoura, who resigned after three months in the position.
Barrieau stayed in Townsend until current Chief Robert Eaton took over in May 2016, and Giancotti, who served as his lieutenant, said Barrieau helped steady the department.
"You have some chiefs come in that are just a figurehead and delegate to everybody else what needs to be done, but he was definitely a hands-on type of leader," Giancotti said. "He personified leadership."
But for all of his hard work, Barrieau still maintained a level of warmth and a sense of humor, co-workers said. Giancotti called him a "lighthearted individual," and Hawke recalled that Barrieau loved the Sept. 19 holiday known as International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
"I still have a parrot in my office that he gave me for Talk Like a Pirate Day," Hawke said.
On Halloween, Hawke said, Barrieau would drive around to ensure that children were staying safe, and he would often hand out candy from his cruiser.
"He was just an all-around great guy, someone the entire city of Gardner will miss," Hawke said.