FREEPORT — On a Friday night in February 2002, Robert La Guardia, a sergeant with the Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, walked unannounced into more than 30 bars, restaurants and convenience stores in southern Maine.

The news story in the Portland Press Herald said he checked dozens of IDs for underage drinkers and also pulled over three cars. He staked out the Hannaford supermarket in Biddeford, then drove to a liquor store in Saco, where he hid in the shadows and looked through binoculars for teenagers trying to buy alcohol.

“He was one of the best liquor enforcement officers the department has ever had,” said Frank Lyons, a former police officer who worked with Mr. La Guardia for 23 years and rode with him that night in 2002. “He will be missed in the law enforcement community.”

Mr. La Guardia died Sunday. He was 65.

He joined the Bureau of Liquor Enforcement in 1973 as an inspector. He then served as an officer, conducting routine inspections of liquor dealers in southern Maine. He checked each establishment’s license, along with financial records to make sure the business was in compliance with state law.

Lyons said Mr. La Guardia was a remarkable man who championed many education initiatives in the Department of Public Safety, including a curriculum to train new liquor enforcement officers. He also created a training program for convenience stores and other liquor retailers that had incurred multiple violations.

“He was a mainstay for a lot of the initiatives they did,” Lyons said.

Mr. La Guardia also worked with Howard Cooke, a retired bureau officer. Cooke said Mr. La Guardia was dedicated to liquor enforcement.

“It was his life,” Cooke said. “He was the ideal supervisor. He didn’t rule with an iron fist. If something needed to be worked out, we would sit down and talk about it. He was an excellent communicator and very diplomatic.”

Larry Sanborn, a liquor inspector for the Department of Public Safety, said Mr. La Guardia led the department by example.

“He was all about the job,” Sanborn said. “He lived it. He breathed it. (He had) a passion for liquor-related issues. I’m heartbroken that he is gone. Shame on me for not keeping in touch.”

Mr. La Guardia retired in 2003 when the Legislature voted to eliminate the bureau.

He was married to Suzanne La Guardia for 41 years. The couple raised two children.

His daughter, Gina La Guardia of Falmouth, burst into tears on Tuesday when she talked about her father’s love for his grandson, Thomas La Guardia of Bowdoinham, who called him “Duckie.”

She said he was a great father who was always there when she and her sister needed him.

“He was always there to help, no matter what,” Gina La Guardia said. “He was a really generous person. He loved kids. He loved playing with my nephew.”

Mr. La Guardia enjoyed doing projects at his home. He also took care of the birdhouses and feeders he had around his property. In his retirement, he also enjoyed painting.

Mr. La Guardia’s health began to decline four or five years ago when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. He had been receiving dialysis treatment three times a week. Last week, he had surgery to remove a blood clot. Complications from the surgery left him on life support.

“You can’t ask a person to keep on going when they are so sick,” his daughter said. “I’m OK that he’s gone because he’s not miserable anymore. I’m heartbroken.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]