Hundreds of people lined the hospital hallways to pay respects to Skip Nicholson, a fallen officer they’d never met. It was midafternoon. Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola hospital was so quiet you could have heard a tongue depressor drop.

Hospital employees filed into the halls, looking for places to stand, wedging against walls, tucking themselves in open doorways, and cramming together like canned oysters. The crowd was three deep in some spots.

“Find your places, people,” said one nurse. Then she did a let’s-hustle clap for effect.


People bowed heads, closed eyes, someone made the Sign of the Cross. There were doctors, nurses, techs, and volunteers. There were officers from the Pensacola Police Department, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Pensacola Fire Department. There were orderlies, cafeteria workers, and custodians.

They lined every centimeter of available wallspace, forming a human chain that connected from the morgue to the hospital’s front doors.

And it was all for Skip.

Retired deputy Madison “Skip” Nicholson died two nights ago. It all started in Wilcox County, Alabama. A rural county about half the size of Delaware, with a population small enough to fit into your guest bathroom.

On Wednesday, Skip responded to a domestic call in Yellow Bluff with another deputy. The irony is that Skip had retired from doing patrol work long ago. At his age, Skip should have been at home with his boots off, reading the paper, watching Pat Sajack on TV.

Instead he was on the job.

But then, men like Skip aren’t average men. Law enforcement runs deep within their circulatory system. It’s caked in their arteries like LDL. Being a peace officer is just who they are.

Skip had worked with the Wilcox County Sheriff’s Department for 40 years. He had done everything from serving subpoenas to scrubbing the jailhouse toilets.

You don’t just turn it off after you retire.

Skip was shot multiple times in the chest and neck. They airlifted him to Pensacola. He died somewhere over Mobile, mid-flight.

Skip was 78 years old.

“He was everybody’s granddad,” Skip’s son recalls. “Everybody’s uncle. He was my everything.”

Wilcox County Sheriff Earnest Evans said, “He was one of the greatest people I know.”

The hospital morgue doors opened slowly. The intercom played “Taps.” The gurney emerged. And if there was a dry eye in the city, it belonged to an oil portrait.

The casket was wheeled down the long hallway, draped in a crisp American flag. The throngs of strangers who had never shaken Skip’s hand, never seen his easy smile, never enjoyed the pleasure of his conversation, honored him as he passed.

His body was accompanied by six law-enforcement honor guardsmen consisting of three Pensacola Police Department officers, dressed in Class A blues and broad brimmed campaign hats; and three Escambia Sheriff’s Department officers, clad in patrol greens.

“Skip was our brother,” said one officer. “Even though I never met him, we’re the same.”

The gurney made its route through the halls serenaded by sniffles and quietly muttered prayers. And when the casket reached the hospital entrance, the real show began.

Outside waiting were multitudes of law-enforcement vehicles, highway patrol cars, and fire trucks. A legion of uniforms had gathered near the door, standing in tight formation, showing full salute.

After Skip’s remains were loaded into the white hearse, a quick siren yelp came from a lead vehicle. And so began the 130-mile procession back to Wilcox.

The Cadillac coach eased into traffic, escorted by the motor unit. On the Caddy’s tail were upwards of 100 county vehicles. Every lightbar blazing. All high beams on. The air of Escambia County was red and blue that afternoon.

The West Florida sun was growing dim, and the sky was pinkish. Traffic came to a veritable standstill in the City of Five Flags as the police motorcade passed by.

Automobiles pulled to the shoulder to let the convoy through. On Airport Boulevard, a beat up Honda pulled aside. A motorist stepped out of the driver’s seat to watch a tidal wave of police cruisers pass by.

On Highway 29, an old man parked his Ford on the rumble strip, crawled from the front seat, and watched the caravan with his head down, hands folded against his lap.

“I was riding in my cruiser,” said one officer. “I looked out my window and I couldn’t believe how many were showing this outpouring of support.”

They carried Skip forty-nine miles to the Florida-Alabama line. The hearse was intercepted by Alabama law enforcement vehicles near Atmore, where Skip’s procession resumed its homeward journey.

“Riding in that procession feels like a big weight,” says one police officer. “You’re always thinking to yourself, ‘The cop in that hearse up there could be me.’ But look, that’s our job. This is what we are. It’s who we are. I never met Skip, but I know that’s who he was, too.”

And that’s how a few hundred folks who had never met Skip Nicholson sent him home.


  1. Peggy ALEXANDER - December 4, 2021 7:03 am

    We have had 3 law enforcement officers 👮‍♀️ shot and killed in the ton of Brookhaven Ms las few yrs. Two at the same incident. We had the service as you described. They were younger.

  2. NancyB - December 4, 2021 7:32 am

    Deep appreciation for each and every law enforcement personnel and first responder and their families. You are deeply respected.

  3. Beth Wannamaker - December 4, 2021 8:45 am

    I can relate to this on a very personal level as can many across our nation. Law enforcement and first responders are a family. My brother, a police sergeant, was killed in the line of duty in a small town in South Carolina nearly 30 years ago now. Our church seated 2500 people and there were no seats available – the choir loft was filled with law enforcement from across the state – people stood in the aisles and lined the walls of the sanctuary and the balconies. The vestibule was filled as was the front porch and lawn with those who could not get inside. The procession from the church to the cemetery was longer than any I can ever remember. The cemetery was crowded. Law enforcement is a family. But our entire community – no matter what color you were nor what “side of the tracks” you came from – came together to honor and pay respects and remember and mourn. The support was both overwhelming and comforting at the same time.

  4. Leigh Amiot - December 4, 2021 11:39 am

    The lawlessness and lack of respect for life that has touched many in this nation is heart-rending. What have we become that many of us believe we can decide who lives, who dies, and when?

    Respectful, loving send-off, but I am grieved this officer did not get to die of natural old age.

  5. Paul McCutchen - December 4, 2021 11:56 am

    Unfortunately this happens much to often. Firefighters and Law enforcement officers are constantly putting themselves in harms way to keep the rest of us safe. Maybe one day we will use procession as parades for retiring public servants.

  6. Joan+Moore - December 4, 2021 12:04 pm

    A very worthy tribute to an American Hero, but I wish it had not had to have happened.

  7. Melanie - December 4, 2021 12:49 pm

    💙🖤God bless our Law Enforcement Officers 💙🖤 Rest In Peace Officer Nicholson.

  8. Dianne DeBore - December 4, 2021 1:17 pm

    More special tears for this precious man are running down my face. RIP!

  9. Karen - December 4, 2021 1:28 pm

    Keeping our policemen and other first responders in prayer. My deepest sympathy to Skips friends and family.

  10. Pete Tucker - December 4, 2021 1:52 pm


  11. Laura - December 4, 2021 2:23 pm

    Sean, you are the Norman Rockwell of storytelling. Thank you for sharing your art with the rest of us.

  12. Ernie Kelly - December 4, 2021 2:50 pm

    When I write something emotional, the hardest part is to keep it focused…as brief as it can be but still long enough. Great job on that and my heartfelt prayers to Skip and his family – by blood and by calling.

  13. Liza - December 4, 2021 2:58 pm

    So sad!

  14. Ruth Gunter Mitchell - December 4, 2021 3:03 pm

    My heart salutes Skip and all the dedicated, peace-loving officers that sacrifice their own safety for the rest of us on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing this tribute.

  15. Betsy - December 4, 2021 3:14 pm

    We were on our way from Birmingham to your show in Milton on Thursday when we were stopped getting on I-10. We parked beside a K-9 officer who got his dog out of the vehicle and stood as the procession went past. It was a touching and impressive sight to see so many following the hearse as well as stopped on the roadside to honor this fallen officer.
    We loved your show…….your writing brought to life plus the singing was wonderful!! Thanks.

  16. Betty - December 4, 2021 3:28 pm

    I wish all the people who put their lives on the line for us would receive at least some of this respect every day. I think they are some of the most unappreciated people. we just take them for granted. It seems the only time you hear about them is if one of them does something wrong. Then it is all over the news for days or weeks or months. Next time you see one of them thank them for their service.

  17. Stacey Wallace - December 4, 2021 4:52 pm

    Prayers for Skip Nicholson’s family and friends. Skip, along with all law enforcement officers, firemen, and all first responders, are my heroes. They do what I am too afraid to do.

  18. Linda Moon - December 4, 2021 5:27 pm

    My eyes don’t belong in an oil portrait right now. I’m remembering my friends’ father, a policeman who protected my husband’s workplace long ago. The officer lost his life doing his job there. He was a good cop, and his daughter and her four brothers were my good friends since childhood. Their father and Skip did their jobs well. They’re Home.

  19. Susan - December 4, 2021 5:57 pm

    Thank you, Pensacola for the caring compassion you showed our law enforcement officer Skip Nicholson. Susan McKelvey, Camden, Ala.

  20. Joy Chanin - December 4, 2021 6:08 pm

    That was a beautiful memorial piece you wrote. I have so much respect for our police officers and fire personnel. They have been getting too much flack these past few years. I dare any respectful, sane citizen to take their places.

  21. Patricia+Schwindt - December 4, 2021 6:41 pm

    And I’ll bet not ONE of those people lining the highway or the hospital hallway ever considered DE-funding their police departments. Thank you for such a wonderful, touching, powerful story.

  22. Mary Frances Jones - December 4, 2021 10:13 pm

    I am 88 years old and live in Greenville. Thanks for this very moving article about Skip!!!!!

  23. Karen Snyder - December 5, 2021 12:40 am

    A well deserved show of respect, but how tragic that the LACK of respect for life necessitated it. My sincere sympathies to Skip’s family and friends. 💙

  24. Judy Tayloe - December 5, 2021 2:17 am

    Sincere condolences to the family of Officer Skip Nicholson. Rest In Peace, Officer Nicholson.

  25. MAM - December 5, 2021 2:58 am

    You seem to be turning on the eye faucets lately. I thank our first responders whenever I have a chance. They are too often maligned instead of appreciated. We must thank them and support them before they go Home to see God!

  26. Diane Rutledge - December 5, 2021 5:26 am

    I saw your performance in Milton Thursday night. Until that night, I was not familiar with your prose and went with a friend who raved about you. I did sign up that night for your blog and now I read this one. My father was a 26 year retired Illinois State Trooper. What a wonderful tribute to Officer Nicholson, and all officers. The officers nowadays have such a hard job and deserve all the praise they can get. Thank you!

  27. Debbie g - December 5, 2021 12:15 pm


  28. Michelle Bethune - December 5, 2021 2:01 pm

    May God bless Officer Nicholson, his family, friends, fellow officers and the community he protected. The assault on our law enforcement officers has got to end – praying for that as well.

  29. Patricia Gibson - December 5, 2021 6:31 pm

    God bless all our law enforcement and prayers for the family and friends of officer Nicholson 🙏

  30. Sandi. - December 5, 2021 10:56 pm

    What a moving, heartbreaking post. Sincere thanks for all police officers as well as firefighters everywhere who put their lives at risk daily as part of their job. Their bravery and courage are matchless. R.I.P. Skip.

  31. Chasity Davis Ritter - December 6, 2021 2:21 pm

    If you’ve never been a part of something Ike that or even just seen it for yourself you’re really missing out. When my cousin Sgt Sherry Fowler of the Iowa Park, TExas, police dept 30 years employed passed last year it was like something you only ever see on TV. All the towns people were lining the roadways showing respect too in the way to the cemetery. She was so respected and loved. I sure do miss her.

  32. Marilyn M Polen - December 7, 2021 2:39 am

    Thank you for reminding us of the best cops who should stand for all cops.

  33. Bobby - December 7, 2021 12:51 pm

    I spent 35 years in state and federal law enforcement and have attended too many funerals, but all tributes were similar in respect. Thanks for this touching tribute, my friend.

  34. Donnie - December 10, 2021 4:27 pm

    What a fitting tribute to a fallen hero. As always, you tell it so well. Thank you.


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