We never should have known this much about Eugene “Gene” Cole, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office corporal killed in the line of duty last week. In a better world, the good family man and compassionate, professional deputy would have served out his career and retired as a well-respected member of the force, and perhaps some people would have seen a photo deep in the paper honoring his years of service.

Instead, the entire state knows his name. We watched as his body was escorted to the Medical Examiner’s Office, led by cruisers with lights flashing, flanked by a shoulder-to-shoulder line of police officers standing at attention, a tribute repeated on his ride back home.

We followed the hunt for his alleged killer, who was found after four days of an enormous and impressive search.

And we listened as his family, friends and acquaintances told us about a man gone too soon.

What we have learned is that Gene Cole was a hero long before he became the first officer in Maine to be shot and killed in nearly 30 years.

Cole was a hero to his brother, with whom he learned about music at the knee of their father, and whom he later joined on stage, entertaining thousands of Mainers through the years.

He was a hero to his nephew, encouraging the boy to develop his own musical talents – as a young man, the nephew now has his own successful band.

He was a hero, too, to his own children and his grandkids – who called him “Bampi.”

He was a hero to his wife, Sheryl, and the love of her life and a wonderful partner – as well as a good-natured pain in the butt, according to the touching tribute to her late husband that she posted on Facebook.

On the job, too, he was a hero.

According to the people who worked with him or otherwise crossed his path – even those on the wrong side of the law – Cole was calm, respectful and compassionate, an even-handed presence even in stressful and uncomfortable situations.

Having gotten into law enforcement late in life, after running his own electronics business, Cole in his time at the sheriff’s office became a welcomed sight on his beat, a member of the community as well as a true professional – badge No. 1312, worn now with a black mourning band by his fellow officers.

But before he ever wore a badge, and before he was a hero to people who would never know him, he was loved and adored by the people closest to him. To a lot of us, he is a symbol of service and sacrifice. To others, though, he was so much more. In their lives, he leaves an unfillable hole.

“When I’m home, alone or with family, where Gene is simply a husband, dad, and Bampi,” Sheryl Cole wrote in her Facebook post, “I will mourn, maybe forever. I know he was many great things to a great many people, but – to me – he was mine.”

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