Obituary: Kenneth Manuel / Police officer remembered as a 'gentle giant'

May 28, 1955 - May 30, 2014

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Among his colleagues at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Kenneth Manuel was regarded as a "gentle giant."

Standing at 6 feet 3 inches, Mr. Manuel had the physical stature of a football player. But his warm smile revealed his true disposition: A sweet man who was devoted to serving his community.

People -- from his wife, Janet K. Manuel, to his partners on patrol -- felt safe just being with him.

Mr. Manuel led an active life and had shown no signs of poor health, so family and friends were shocked when he died of a heart attack outside of his Green Tree home May 30, two days after he celebrated his 59th birthday.

He was in his first year of retirement following 22 years as a Pittsburgh police officer, where he worked as a patrol officer and in the narcotics division.

Born to the late Lelia Manuel and Kenneth Manuel Sr., Mr. Manuel was a lifelong Pittsburgh resident who loved his city and lived in its service, Mrs. Manuel said.

He demonstrated his commitment to helping others at a young age, when a 14-year-old "Kenny" helped his family cope with his father's unexpected death.

He adored his father, his sister Venus Manuel recalled, and often accompanied him on boating and fishing excursions. Despite his own grieving, however, Mr. Manuel soon became "the man of the house," and was very protective of his sisters.

After graduating from Schenley High School, Mr. Manuel earned an associate degree in industrial engineering from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute. While he worked as an engineer at both Rockwell International Corp. and Pittsburgh Gear Company, it was only when he was laid off that Mr. Manuel found his true calling.

"He was destined to be a cop," Venus Manuel said.

Before he switched careers, Mr. Manuel often watched police dramas with a friend who was already working for the bureau. Venus Manuel recalled that the two of them would sit and discuss how each episode's crime should be solved.

Mr. Manuel joined the Pittsburgh police department in 1991. He began his career as a patrol officer in Zone 5, which covers the Highland Park district.

Detective Joseph Novakowski, who worked with Officer Manuel on patrol, said he was someone who "could talk to anybody."

"He had a heart that was even bigger than he was," Detective Novakowski said. "He was the type of guy who couldn't stand seeing somebody being wronged or victimized."

During one of their shifts, Officer Manuel was called to investigate a group of males fighting.

When Officer Manuel arrived on the scene, Detective Novakowski said, he talked to the boys on both sides of the dispute. He determined that the altercation was not a fight between gangs, but rather gang members terrorizing a 13-year-old boy who was new to the neighborhood.

Officer Manuel gave the boy his home phone number and told him, "If you need someone to walk you to the bus, or you're being picked on at school, I'll come get you."

When he was not working, Officer Manuel devoted all his time to his family.

"I never saw Ken happier than the day he married Janet," said Bishop Loran Mann, Mr. Manuel's pastor at Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ.

They were fellow parishioners for five years before they began dating. After two years, they were engaged. Mrs. Manuel said when they were deciding their honeymoon destination, they each wrote down where they wanted to go inside a folded slip of paper.

When they opened the slips, the two saw that they had both chosen the same place: Hawaii.

Mr. Manuel decided the specific location. "As a police officer, he researched everything to find out which places were the safest," Mrs. Manuel said with a laugh. "He selected Maui because it had the lowest crime rate."

Mrs. Manuel described marriage with her late husband with one word -- a breathless "wow."

While being the wife of a police officer had its "pluses and minuses," Mrs. Manuel said, she loved her husband for his gentle demeanor, which persisted despite the intense demands of his job.

The couple also shared a commitment to their faith.

"We both were Christians," Mrs. Manuel said. "He loved Christ just as I did, and that was a key connection."

Mrs. Manuel convinced her husband to make his birthday last week a two-day celebration. "Can we have one more day to celebrate?" she had asked. Mr. Manuel responded, "OK, one more day."

She mused about the odd timing of her husband's departure. "At the end, he was still celebrating."

Mr. Manuel is also survived by siblings Lester, Diane and Angela Manuel; and aunt and uncle Mary and John Fletcher.

Family will receive friends today from 4 to 7 p.m., followed by a Fraternal Order of Police service 7:30 p.m. at Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ on East Liberty Boulevard.

Funeral will take place 11 a.m. Saturday at Pentecostal Temple. Interment will be in Greenwood Cemetery.


Yanan Wang: ywang@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.

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