‘Hardworking, humble, prideful’: Pelham police officer, Alabaster resident Juan Gomez remembered
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
Sitting around his parents’ kitchen table on Christmas Eve surrounded by family, Juan Gomez couldn’t help himself. He just had to get out his cell phone and pull up “My Girl” by the Temptations on YouTube.
Gomez quickly showcased his best Carlton Banks impersonation, swinging from side to side in rhythm to the tune of his favorite songs, while his family looked on in uncontrollable laughter.
“My wife, Jessica, pulled her phone out and started recording,” said Juan’s brother Daniel Gomez. “It was a short clip. But it was just enough time to capture our brother being himself. As soon as he realized he was being recorded, he sank back in his chair, but everybody started joking and saying, ‘Put it up, put it up, put it on social media.’ Everybody was cheering and having a good time.”
Sadly, on Saturday, Aug. 14, the Pelham police officer and Alabaster resident died due to complications of COVID-19, but it is those memories and the impact he had in his life that will be remembered as Juan Gomez’s legacy.
“That was our brother,” Daniel Gomez said with tears filling his eyes. “When we were around, he never shied away. He never shied away of anything. He was an awesome, awesome person. He was hardworking, prideful, humble, honest, a joy, funny, goofy. Everything that you would want in a person, in a friend, in a neighbor and in a brother.”
In his life, Juan became dedicated to serving others any way he could. After serving in the U.S. Army and earning the Army Commendation Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, he joined the Albertville Police Department in 2006 before then joining the Pelham Police Department in 2010 where he served the last 11 years of his life.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also obtained an HVAC contractor’s license and founded HVAC Tactical Solutions, LLC in Pelham.
That’s where he and Pelham Police Chief Pat Cheatwood started to become closer than they ever had.
“When Juan started doing HVAC work, I immediately called him because I knew his work ethic, and Juan was trustworthy. On many occasions, he came to our home when it was really hot. He would sweat profusely, and I couldn’t do anything to help him because I don’t know HVAC work,” Cheatwood said with a laugh. “I could just hand him water. But he worked so hard, and every time I would call him and say, ‘Hey, I hate to bother you, but it’s really hot.’ Juan’s response was always, ‘I’m on the way. I’ll make sure your family is comfortable soon.’ And that’s who Juan was. He served everybody he came in contact with, and he not only served them, but he shared Jesus with them, and he did the same with me.”
And Juan did it; more than just when he was needed for work, he did it just to be a person serving others.
“When I look back at the times Juan served my family, it was several years ago, I think the birth of our youngest son. Juan showed up to our house and had two small boxes, and they didn’t say Domino’s. They were real pizza boxes,” Cheatwood recalled. “When I opened them and saw what was inside, I said ‘Wow, where did you find Chicago-style pizza?’ He said, ‘I didn’t Pat, I made them.’ I said, ‘No, really Juan, where did you buy them?’ He said, ‘No, really Pat, I made these.’ We went back and forth for a few minutes, and he really did make them. That was really impressive, but what was really impressive is when I bit into it. It’s one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life.”
In that moment, Juan went out of his way to bake two homemade deep-dish pizzas to help a family who had their hands full with a new son in the picture.
“Juan was everything you want a police officer to be and one of the hardest-working individuals I’ve ever known,” Cheatwood said. “He prided himself in his profession, his uniform, his demeanor and what we stand for in law enforcement. He was a true public servant.”
Down the right path
Juan’s trek to serving others and going down the right path in life began as a kid through the lessons he learned from his parents, Manuel and Maria Gomez.
“He could never have been the person he is without my mom and my dad,” Daniel said. “Both were hardworking individuals who didn’t have much growing up in poor conditions. They worked all their lives to make sure that my sisters Nora and Maria, myself and my brother Juan would have a better life. They were hardworking, humble, honest, prideful and just did everything they could have to help others.”
He quickly picked up on their qualities, which is something his younger brother remembers to this day.
More specifically, he recalled one Saturday morning where their dad asked them to change the oil in the car.
Juan was stoked for the opportunity, while Daniel wanted to do what every normal kid wants to do on a Saturday morning—sleep in, then watch cartoons.
“The light started coming through the window that morning, and I tried to stay frozen because I didn’t want to wake him up,” Daniel said. “He got up, left the room and came back a minute later. He said ‘Danny, if you’re going to eat breakfast, eat breakfast. If you’re not, then go out to the garage.’ I dragged. My wife will tell you to this day, I drag.”
Juan eventually came back in, which led to one of his most famed qualities of grinding his teeth to almost make a screeching sound before saying, “Get up!”
“You could almost hear his teeth cracking,” Daniel said. “So I got up. But I still dragged.”
He got up, started eating some breakfast and then turned on the cartoons.
“That’s when he came in and dragged me out,” Daniel said. “I complained, and complained, and complained. He looked at me and said, ‘Stop complaining. All you’re doing is handing me tools.’ Looking back, I wish I would have paid more attention. He knows I wouldn’t have though. Nowadays, my wife tells me, ‘If you just would have paid attention to your brother, you could have been somewhat of a mechanic. What happens if I have an issue on the road?’ I tell her, ‘Well, I’m going to call roadside assistance.’”
Despite a laugh, Daniel said he knew his brother hated that. He was always determined to do it for himself or for others rather than have to rely on someone else to help him or themselves.
“That’s where his pride came in. Don’t expect anybody to do something for you. Now, I hope I can honor his name and his legacy for my family, for his family, for each and every person in here who knew him, who loved him, who cared for him, who was there for him,” Daniel said before emotions started to overcome him.
Carrying his brother’s sense of pride, Daniel knew Juan was OK, holding his big smile and looking down on him.
“Above being our brother, one of the most awesome things he can ever do is have his faith and heart in the Lord,” Daniel said. “There were times where we would say things, and he would get mad or we would catch him in a bad mood, but he would just turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ because he knew in his heart that God was telling him it wasn’t right.”
A lasting legacy
In 2015, Juan and his wife Katie celebrated the promotion of Cheatwood to Pelham’s police captain by giving him a gift bag of goodies.
At that time, Cheatwood didn’t realize that gift bag would come full circle with Juan’s life.
“I know there was a card in there and maybe a snack or something, and this stone was in there,” Cheatwood said, holding up the green stone with a scripture from Isaiah 40:31. “It has been on my desk since that day. Every time I saw this stone, it reminded me of Juan and just the small amount of time it took to encourage me of God’s Word and to be reminded that God is with me always.”
The verse reads: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like Eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
Cheatwood, who is also strong in his faith, has a Bible app on his phone that gives him a scripture of the day. On the day Juan died, that same verse he gave Cheatwood six years ago, popped up on his phone.
“The same verse that Juan encouraged me with six years ago, is the same verse that I got encouragement from on the day that he passed. There is no mathematical equation to make that happen, but that’s the power of the Word of God.”
That green stone with the scripture on it represents the lasting legacy Juan will continue to have.
Just as he touched Cheatwood with that gift, he did the same in different ways for other friends and members of his family.
His daughter Abbie, who is admittedly a daddy’s girl, and his son Eli both will remember their father as the selfless person he was with shining examples of it through stories from others he impacted.
Those others will also share the stories and his selflessness with others, and many will continue to see the impact of Juan Gomez.
“We may no longer be able to hear his voice, see him physically, hug him, hold him, kiss him, make him laugh; but he’s always going to be here,” Daniel said. “There is nothing in this world that can take that away.”