By Ron Hayes
DELRAY BEACH — Russell “R.C.” Croft, who led the city’s Police Department for more than 30 years, died Nov. 14 in High Springs after a brief illness. He was 93.
“He drove until three weeks before his death,” said his son, Kenneth. “He was out of good stock.” Mr. Croft was also out of pioneer stock. His uncle, Will Croft, was appointed the town’s first marshal in 1911 and became its first police chief when the separate towns of Delray Beach and Delray were incorporated in 1927. His father, Lucius Leroy Croft, was a mayor and councilman. A brother, Victor, was its fire chief.
Known to all as “R.C.,” Mr. Croft was born in McAlpin, Fla. He moved to Delray Beach in 1936 after his marriage, became the chief of police in 1941 and served until his retirement in 1972. He moved to High Springs in the early 1990s.
Donald C. Michael, who retired in 1976 as the city’s chief of detectives, was the ninth man on the force when Chief Croft hired him in 1954. They served together for 18 years, until Mr. Croft’s retirement. “He was a good man, and I enjoyed working for him,” said Michael. “He had a hunting camp out in the Corbett Wildlife preserve and we’d go hunting deer and hogs together. I never had any difficulty with him because I knew he was the boss and I respected him.”
Mr. Croft was the police chief in the spring of 1956, when the burgeoning civil rights movement came to Delray Beach.
On May 20, about 35 black residents arrived at the municipal beach to stage a Sunday “wade-in” protesting segregation. With nearly 100 white citizens standing by and more protesters arriving, Chief Croft ordered the beach closed to both blacks and whites to avoid violence.
A week later, blacks again descended on the beach, whites followed, and Croft’s officers confiscated guns, hatchets, machetes and other weapons. By the early 1960s, however, the beach had been integrated.
“He was a very caring man and the finest father anybody could ever have,” his son said. “He brought me up the old-school way. If I got out of line, he took care of it — and I didn’t get out of line too often.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Croft is survived by a daughter, Bettye Goskowski, of Fort White; a brother, George, of Winder, Ga.; five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. His wife, Mayme, and a son, Dennis, preceded him in death.
A funeral service was held Nov. 19 in High Springs, followed by a Masonic graveside service at Fort White Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Masonic Home of Florida, 3201 First St. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33704.