Dozens of squad cars carrying officers from around the metro-east followed “a gentleman” one last time — to escort his body from Barnes Hospital in St. Louis to Fairview Heights.
Deputy Eric Browder, who inspired “Browder’s Brigade,” died Wednesday afternoon after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 43, and had served as a corrections officer for nine years with the St. Clair Sheriff’s Department. He is survived by his wife, Becky, and daughter, Josie, 6.
“Officer Browder was just a gentleman,” said Sheriff Rick Watson, describing his work ethic and personality.
“We all knew there was going to be a day when he just couldn’t beat it anymore … but he gave the biggest fight I’ve ever seen.”
We all knew there was going to be a day when he just couldn’t beat it anymore … but he gave the biggest fight I’ve ever seen.
Sheriff Rick Watson
To honor and remember Browder, officers from most metro-east police agencies and even St. Louis escorted Browder’s body “to bring him back” on Thursday afternoon, said Master Sgt. Tammy Grimes of the sheriff’s department.
Grimes said Browder called in sick one day in March 2015, saying that he was headed to the emergency room in pain. It was unlike him, he was never sick.
“There were no symptoms,” Grimes said. “Within 24 hours he (was diagnosed with) stage 4 pancreatic cancer.”
She said he was told he would live four to six months without treatment, or as long as 24 months with treatment. He chose chemotherapy.
Browder’s Brigade started to show support for the family and also to build awareness of pancreatic cancer, said the Rev. Mark Reyling of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Freeburg, which the Browders attend.
“It’s kind of like … he was a correctional officer, so he had a St. Clair County family. Then he kind of had his concealed-carry training, that was a piece of the family … but there were friends of Eric’s or friends of friends or neighbors of coworkers — he brought a whole bunch of people together, not just law enforcement,” Reyling said.
Among those friends were Stacey Toenjes, Trish Staub and Amy Amann, who stood Thursday at the entrance to Lake View Funeral Home with purple helium balloons to watch the hearse drive in.
Toenjes said purple was for pancreatic cancer awareness; Staub said the cancer is “becoming one of the more deadly types of cancer.”
“Even at the end, it wasn’t quiet in the hospital room,” Toenjes said. “Lots and lots of laughing.”
Watson said Browder was inspirational.
“The way he carried himself, he kept coming to work until the last month. When he was here, he was determined he was going to beat this cancer ... never once did he not sit up straight and present himself as just as healthy as you and I.”
Watson said Browder had a number of tasks at the department, including training for the concealed-carry license.
“All I got was compliments on him,” Watson said.
Arrangements for Eric Browder
Visitation will be at Lake View Funeral Home from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday
A private visitation will be at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Freeburg; followed by a public funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Saturday. Internment at Lake View will follow.