NORTH BERWICK – James Miniuti’s family and friends knew him as a gruff man with a “sandpaper exterior and a marshmallow center.”

Mr. Miniuti, a retired Marine who served in Vietnam and 16 years with the South Berwick Police Department, died Monday. He was 67.

Mr. Miniuti, known by most officers as “Sarge,” joined the department in the early 1980s as a patrolman. Soon after, he became a patrol sergeant. He retired in 2000.

During his career, he served as the department’s armorer and firearms instructor, helping young officers with their weapons qualifications. He was also an instructor for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and worked closely with the Law Enforcement Dive Team.

South Berwick police Lt. Christopher Burbank said Thursday that Mr. Miniuti went above and beyond to help other officers advance in their careers. He said Mr. Miniuti was always there to make sure he succeeded.

“He was so supportive and incredibly helpful to me,” Burbank said. “Jim was always there to make sure we succeeded as a department. He was such a huge part of this department, even after he retired.”

Jeffrey Pelkey, another officer in South Berwick and a longtime friend, said Mr. Miniuti devoted his life to public service.

“He was one of those guys you could count on to make sure the job got done right every time,” Pelkey said. “He was a gruff guy, but when you got to know him … he would do anything for you.”

Mr. Miniuti was a fixture in the department long after he retired.

“He would walk in the back entrance of the police department and with his booming voice … we knew he was here,” Burbank said. “This is the end of an era. Jim came from the era where you never had to guess what was on his mind, and you knew what he stood for and what he was going to say.”

Mr. Miniuti left high school to enlist in the Marine Corps. He served six tours during the Vietnam War and retired as a gunnery sergeant in 1981. Jack Miniuti of Saco, the youngest of his three children, said he admired his father’s bravery.

“He was very much a Marine,” his son said. “I admired the sacrifices he made by serving his country the way he did.”

In 2007, Mr. Miniuti was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes, a blood disorder. The illness triggered a series of medical issues he couldn’t overcome.

The younger Miniuti said he grew distant from his father during his years with the Marines and the police department. About 10 years ago, the Miniutis reconnected and began rebuilding their relationship. He said they did a lot of storytelling about the years they spent apart.

“I’ll miss his phone calls,” his son said. “We kind of knew this was coming. He was such an independent person and he was losing control of his body and needed help. It’s still shocking.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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