CLEARWATER – Police officers are a close-knit band of brothers and sisters. And, although Margaret Jetton has never worn a badge, she’s very much a member of Clearwater’s law enforcement family.
“When the going gets tough, either personally or professionally, Margaret’s always right there with a big smile,” said Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein. “She literally adopts the officers who work in her neighborhood. You name it, she does it for them.”
To Jetton, it’s no big deal, just the natural thing to do.
“I know how dangerous their lives can be, so I do anything I can to help them,” she said. “The police are just like family to us. They keep an eye on us all the time.”
She bakes cakes, sends them birthday cards and visits them when they are hospitalized. When Jetton had a stroke, about three years ago, the cops had an opportunity to return the favor.
“I felt somebody twiddling my toes in the hospital,” she recalled. “I looked up and it was Chief Klein. I’ve known him for years, but he was wearing a plaid shirt, so I didn’t even recognize him until he grinned.”
Jetton, 74, is from Cullman, Ala., where she met her husband of almost 56 years, James “Virgil” Jetton, at a skating rink in a tent. She’s retired from cooking at Dunedin Elementary School.
Photos of their three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren decorate the Jettons’ tidy Wood Valley home. But the walls are also covered with photos of Jetton’s other “family,” smiling men and women in blue uniforms.
Amid the photos are plaques and awards, including the 2002 Citizen of the Year Award from the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 10.
The Jettons bought their home 32 years ago, at a time when the police had just run many of the drug dealers out of North Greenwood. Unfortunately, the dealers set up shop in the vacant lot, which the developer had donated to the city for a park, across from the Jettons’ home.
Jetton helped form a neighborhood watch, and she pestered city officials. Soon, a bare-bones park was established on the lot. Later, a recreation center, playground and basketball and tennis courts were added.
Bicycle cops patrolled the park, and Jetton gave them keys to her house. She told them to come in and help themselves to a cold bottle of water whether or not anyone was home. In June 2001, a police substation was opened in the park, largely at Jetton’s urging.
Whenever a Wood Valley resident died, Jetton personally went to all 320 homes in the subdivision and took up a collection. The money was used to buy a wreath and a card, and anything left over was given to the decedent’s family.
“It didn’t matter if you gave a quarter or $10,” she said. “The wreath and card just said ‘from your friends and neighbors in Wood Valley,’ so the family never knew who gave what.”
The tradition is still carried on, but the collections are now taken up at neighborhood association meetings.
Jetton has headed the Wood Valley Neighborhood Watch and the Compass juvenile justice program. She’s a Clearwater Police Department volunteer, and the Boys and Girls Clubs recently named their technical room after her.
“We enjoy living here,” she said. “I help the neighborhood children a lot. If the rec center is closed, they know enough to come to my door if they need help.”
Jetton gives Klein much of the credit for making Wood Valley a good place to live.
“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. “He’ll do anything he can to help anybody.”
And the feeling is mutual.
“Margaret is probably the type of person Norman Rockwell would have painted a portrait of,” Klein said. “She’s a remarkable person and one of my favorite citizens.”